Top 50 most important Illini: No. 43, Mike Epstein

Top 50 most important Illini: No. 43, Mike Epstein

Best of ... Illini

No. 43: Mike Epstein, RB

Why he’s important: The loyalty he showed the program for nearly a two-year stretch should make him a fan favorite once he steps on the field. The incoming true freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., initially committed to Illinois in August 2015, roughly three weeks before Tim Beckman was fired. He stayed committed to interim coach Bill Cubit throughout the 2015 season and did so again after Cubit was given the full-time position in November 2015. Then, after Cubit was fired in March 2016 and Lovie Smith hired two days later, stuck with Illinois throughout before signing his letter of intent this past February. The St. Thomas Aquinas product helped lead his high school to a Class 7A state championship his senior season, where he rushed for 1,173 yards and 16 touchdowns after he missed his junior season with a knee injury.

Fast fact: Football runs in Epstein’s family. His older brother, Danny, played football at Colgate from 2011-12 and at Bryant from 2012 to 2015, while his father, David, played football at Miami from 1979 to 1982.

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Previous rankings: No. 50, DL Kendrick Green; No. 49, QB Cam Miller; No. 48, DB James Knight; No. 47, DL Lere Oladipo; No. 46, LB Jake Hansen; No. 45, RB Austin Roberts; No. 44, QB Trenard Davis