23 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini
No. 23: Michael Heitz, OL
Why he’s important: Heitz is likely the most versatile offensive lineman Illinois has. He should start the season at left guard, but if Austin Schmidt can’t lay a firm grip on the starting right tackle spot, Heitz could slide over to fill the position. He gives Illinois options to consider when it comes to the offensive line shuffling that is bound to happen during the course of a season. Heitz didn’t start the final two games last season, with Illinois starting Jake Feldmeyer at center and moving Alex Hill to left guard. That snapped a string of 23 consecutive starts made by Heitz. He was seeing time at right tackle in the spring, along with time at left guard, until a broken left thumb sustained in the latter half of spring ball forced Heitz to miss the spring game. He’s fully recovered from the injury now as the pride of Vermont (small town near Macomb, not the state known for producing maple syrup) embarks upon his final season at Illinois.
Fast fact: If Illinois plays 14 games or more this season (possible only by playing in the Big Ten title game, then a national semifinal game and then the national championship game), Heitz has a chance to crack the school’s all-time top 10 list when it comes to career starts. He enters this fall with 31, most on the Illini. Former offensive linemen Matt Maddox and Marques Sullivan, along with former linebackers Kevin Hardy and Dana Howard, are all tied for seventh with 45 starts.
Last year’s ranking: No. 12
Tomorrow: No. 22
No. 24: Alex Hill