25 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini.
No. 25: Jihad Ward, DL
Why he’s important: He made Illinois fans sweat a little bit on Signing Day since his letter of intent was one of the last to arrive. Now they’re eagerly awaiting to see what the junior college transfer from Globe Tech in New York City can bring to a defensive line sorely in need of athleticism and playmakers. He has size that warrants a second glance, checking in at a legit 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds. Illinois wants to line him up at first at a defensive end spot after he primarily played defensive tackle during two seasons at Globe Tech. The Illini feel the speed and disruptive ability Ward has would affect the pass rush more from an edge position than an interior spot. How well he progresses once practices start in Champaign and continue at Camp Rantoul will be closely monitored. A season after the Illinois defensive ends barely generated any type of consistent pressure against the quarterback and struggled to contain the opponent’s run game in between the tackles, Ward has every opportunity to possibly start. By the time the season opens against Youngstown State.
Fast fact: A four-star recruit by some recruiting services, the Philadelphia native chose the Illini ahead of offers from South Florida, Temple, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia less than a week before Christmas almost seven months ago.
Last year’s ranking: N/A
No. 26: Austin Schmidt