20 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini.
No. 20: Justin Hardee, WR
Why he’s important: The Illinois offense is banking on an improved season from Hardee. The Cleveland native enters his third season with Illinois and brings the most experience to the group. He hasn’t exactly made himself known for any dynamic or mind-boggling catches so far (28 catches for 287 yards and no touchdowns in first two seasons). And his production decreased last season after showing flashes of potential during his true freshman season in 2012. Bill Cubit’s offense can turn unknown wide receivers into game-changers (i.e. Steve Hull last season). Perhaps Hardee becomes this year’s version of Hull. Hardee has the confidence and belief in himself to drastically improve his numbers, but still needs to work on his route-running, a key staple Cubit constantly harps on with the Illini’s wideouts. Wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy has seen a continued maturity out of Hardee. That’s great, but what people want to see most of Hardee this fall at Memorial Stadium is racking up receptions and hauling in a few touchdowns, too.
Fast fact: Hardee, who played his high school football at Glenville under Ted Ginn Sr., is one of 12 former Tarblooders suiting up in the Big Ten. Along with Hardee and fellow Illini cornerback/kick returner V’Angelo Bentley, wide receiver/kick returner Shane Wynn (Indiana), defensive back Sean Draper (Iowa), defensive end Frank Clark (Michigan), defensive tackle Willie Henry (Michigan), linebacker Devin Bogard (Ohio State), quarterback Cardale Jones (Ohio State), offensive lineman Marcelys Jones (Ohio State), defensive back Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), defensive back Erick Smith (Ohio State) and defensive back Chris Worley (Ohio State) all are Glenville alums.
Last year’s ranking: No. 24
Tomorrow: No. 19
No. 21: Taylor Barton