34 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini
No. 34: Taylor Zalewski, PK
Why he’s important: He can change the complexion of a game with a successful field goal or extra point. And change how a game could unfold by missing one of those kicks. He was more dependable than undependable last fall in his first season as the starting kicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field goals, good enough for a 71 percent success rate. Of the returning kickers in the Big Ten, that doesn’t leave Zalewski in the same category as Michigan State’s Michael Geiger, but he doesn’t make Illinois fans nervous like Penn State’s Sam Ficken does to the Nittany Lion faithful. With 16 career field goals entering this fall, the redshirt junior from Orland Park needs only six more to crack the program’s top-10 in career makes. He’ll also handle kickoff duties for the third straight year. He boomed all 66 Illinois had last season, 35 of which resulted in touchbacks. Look for similar numbers this fall from Zalewski, who should hold off any competition from Ryan Frain during fall practices.
Fast fact: Like most kickers, any field goal longer than 40 yards can turn into an adventure. Zalewski is 4 of 9 from that distance or longer, but doesn’t seem to have too much of a problem with any field goal from at least 50 yards. He is 2 for 3 on such attempts, making a career-long 54-yarder (third longest in school history) against Purdue in 2012 and nailing a 51-yarder against Northwestern last season. Zalewski is only 2 of 6 from field goals between 40 and 49 yards, making only one of his four attempts last season.
Last year’s ranking: No. 28
Tomorrow: No. 33
No. 35: Jaylen Dunlap