2 days to Camp Rantoul

2 days to Camp Rantoul

Counting down the 50 most important Illini.

No. 2: Earnest Thomas, STAR

Why he’s important: Thomas will have to become a star on defense. Well, technically, that’s his new position this season. The hybrid linebacker/defensive back position Tim Beckman brought to Illinois seems like a perfect fit for the aggressive and hard-hitting Thomas. He is the leading returning tackler for Illinois after he compiled 101 tackles last season playing strong safety. Illinois moved him to STAR this spring in an effort to better utilize his speed closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s a good decision by Illinois, especially since Thomas was exposed at times last year in the secondary. He did lead Illinois in pass breakups and pass deflections with seven apiece, but wasn’t able to gather in an interception. He’s a possible All-Big Ten candidate if he excels at the STAR spot and helps keep running backs from breaking loose repeatedly in the open field. It was a problem area much of last season for Illinois, and Thomas will have the responsibility of containing those runs so they don’t become game-changing plays.   

Fast fact: The communication major is comfortable with the media and may replace Nathan Scheelhaase as the go-to interview with the Illini this season. And because of his accomplishments, too. He is tied for fifth in program history with six forced fumbles, and only needs three this season to move past Dana Howard for third all-time.

Last year’s ranking: No. 7

Tomorrow: No. 1

Previous rankings
No. 3: Josh Ferguson

No. 4: Mason Monheim

No. 5: Simon Cvijanovic

No. 6: Reilly O'Toole

No. 7: T.J. Neal

No. 8: Ted Karras

No. 9: V'Angelo Bentley

No. 10: Aaron Bailey

No. 11: Teko Powell

No. 12: Matt LaCosse

No. 13: Geronimo Allison 

No. 14: Zane Petty

No. 15: Jon Davis

No. 16: Martize Barr

No. 17: Austin Teitsma

No. 18: Dawuane Smoot

No. 19: Kenny Nelson

No. 20: Justin Hardee

No. 21: Taylor Barton

No. 22: Donovonn Young

No. 23: Michael Heitz

No. 24: Alex Hill

No. 25: Jihad Ward

No. 26: Austin Schmidt

No. 27: Mikey Dudek

No. 28: Caleb Day

No. 29: Eaton Spence

No. 30: Mike Svetina

No. 31: Darius Mosely

No. 32: Justin DuVernois

No. 33: DeJazz Woods

No. 34: Taylor Zalewski

No. 35: Jaylen Dunlap

No. 36: Devin Church

No. 37: Tyrin Stone-Davis

No. 38: Paul James

No. 39: Jarrod Clements

No. 40: Joe Spencer

No. 41: Ralph Cooper

No. 42: B.J. Bello

No. 43: Jake Howe

No. 44: Joe Fotu

No. 45: Tyler White

No. 46: Zach Hirth 

No. 47: Eric Finney

No. 48: Zeph Grimes

No. 49: Carroll Phillips

No. 50: Clayton Fejedelem