21 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini.
No. 21: Taylor Barton, DB
Why he’s important: Delivering big hits and big interceptions. Those attributes epitomize the best strong safeties in the game. Illinois sure hopes Barton can improve dramatically this fall in both areas. The redshirt sophomore had a stellar spring game in 2013 with two interceptions. Nabbed the first of what many thought would possibly total double-digit picks. Or at least come close. But his interception against Cincinnati was one of only three Illinois had last season. He started the first five games of the season at free safety before watching his playing time dwindle. Barton wound up with 34 tackles, three pass deflections and two pass breakups last season, but he was relegated to a backup role once Zane Petty emerged at the season’s midway point. Barton spent the spring working to replace Earnest Thomas at strong safety with Thomas moving to the STAR position, but Barton’s hold on the position is tenuous.
Fast fact: Initially committed to the Illini when Ron Zook was still in charge, the avid outdoorsman has worn No. 3 since he was given it during his high school career at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Fla.
Last year’s ranking: No. 25
Tomorrow: No. 20
No. 22: Donovonn Young