Meet the 2017 Illini

Meet the 2017 Illini


*7 Chayce Crouch 6-4 230 Jr. Newark, Ohio Recovered from last year's season-ending shoulder surgery, redshirt junior returns as Illinois' starting quarterback heading into training camp.

15 Trenard Davis 6-0 195 So. Boynton Beach, Fla. Cousin of NFL receiver Anquan Boldin and former Illini receiver Desmond Cain, Davis practiced at safety, wide receiver and quarterback last season.

3 Jeff George Jr. 6-3 215 So. Indianapolis Illinois legacy became one-half of the only father-son duo to start at quarterback for the Illini when he got his first career start at Michigan last season.

14 Cam Miller 6-1 215 R-Fr. Evergreen Park Former Brother Rice quarterback came to Illinois as a walk-on running back before depth issues got him back under center as a backup last season.

16 Connor Kelly 6-2 190 Fr. Chicago Son of former Illinois defensive back Mark Kelly (1985-88), walk-on was a backup last fall at St. Rita.

12 Charlie Reinkemeyer 5-11 175 Fr. Lake Forest Walk-on was an all-area selection in both football and baseball at Lake Forest and led Scouts to Class 6A state quarterfinals in the former.

10 Cam Thomas 6-2 190 Fr. Chicago Heights First quarterback commit of the Lovie Smith era could be Illinois' third-string option behind Crouch and George or might redshirt the 2017 season.

Running backs

29 Christian Bobak 6-0 200 R-Fr. Hinsdale Walk-on also participated in track (three years) and hockey (two years) at Hinsdale Central, where he was a 1,000-yard rusher.

21 Ra'Von Bonner 5-11 220 Fr. Cincinnati Bigger back has some speed, too. The prolific scorer (80 touchdowns in high school career) was also part of Ohio's fastest 400 relay team in 2016.

27 Dre Brown 5-11 215 So. DeKalb Recently engaged, the former four-star recruit is finally healthy after ACL tears in each knee the past two offseasons.

2 Reggie Corbin 5-10 190 So. Upper Marlboro, Md. Elusive change-of-pace back ranked 14th in the nation last season among freshmen after averaging 6.08 yards per carry.

26 Mike Epstein 6-0 190 Fr. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Has already had three Illini coaches without playing a game after committing to Tim Beckman and staying committed to Bill Cubit and Lovie Smith.

*22 Kendrick Foster 5-9 200 Sr. Peoria Richwoods grad went from contemplating a transfer after the 2015 season to heading into this fall as the undisputed No. 1 back on the depth chart.

88 Brandon Jones 6-5 240 R-Fr. Columbia, Mo. Son of former Missouri assistant Brian Jones was recruited as a defensive end before becoming one of several players to switch sides of the ball.

36 Austin Roberts 6-2 245 Jr. Rice Lake, Wis. Former linebacker and 2015 Illinois Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year could be first option for any situation that requires a fullback.

Receivers/tight ends

84 James Bartholomew 5-8 160 Fr. Hilton Head, S.C. Walk-on comes from an athletic family, as mother, father, grandfather and three uncles all participated in college athletics.

19 Louis Dorsey 6-6 225 Fr. Jacksonville, Fla. Ranked the 16th-best tight end recruit by ESPN, but he was also a Division I basketball prospect and played basketball only as a junior in high school.

*18 Mikey Dudek 5-11 185 Jr. Naperville Fan favorite has been sidelined since breakout freshman All-America season — in 2014 — and his return could be key to more dynamic Illini offense.

82 William DuPont 6-0 185 Fr. St. Louis DuPont isn't the typical freshman considering he transitioned from his 2012 high school graduation to a five-year professional baseball career.

*39 Nathan Echard 6-2 245 Sr. Eureka, Mo. A final season at tight end will make for four positions in four years for Echard, who has also been a linebacker, H-back and fullback.

5 Carmoni Green 6-1 190 Fr. Miami Potential for early playing time drew Green to Illinois, and he doubled down on that opportunity by enrolling early to participate in spring practices.

*9 Sam Mays 6-3 200 Jr. Missouri City, Texas Big receiver out of the Houston area is cousins with former Cougars standout and Phi Slamma Jamma star Larry Micheaux.

45 Henry McGrew 6-3 245 Jr. Overland Park, Kan. Illinois moved McGrew from linebacker to defensive end last season, and he's been moved again to tight end for the 2017 season.

81 Griffin Palmer 6-5 230 R-Fr. St. Charles, Mo. Palmer has the requisite frame and skill set to be a big target in the Illinois passing game, but how he utilizes his potential is the question.

89 Alex Pihlstrom 6-6 235 Fr. Glen Ellyn Walk-on won a Class 7A state title at Glenbard West in 2015 and also participated in basketball and tennis for the Hilltoppers.

13 Caleb Reams 6-2 250 So. Gurnee Reams is the only recruited tight end on the roster to start at tight end and have caught a pass for the Illini.

38 Brandon Roberts 6-3 250 Sr. Peoria Roberts has more career tackles (five) than receptions (zero) after joining the Illini in 2013 as a walk-on defensive lineman.

4 Ricky Smalling 6-1 195 Fr. Chicago Brother Rice product was Lovie Smith's first commit and then caught 80 passes for 1,336 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Crusaders last season.

17 Kendall Smith 6-1 185 Fr. Bolingbrook Missed being Smith's first commit by few minutes, pledging on same trip as Smalling; wrapped up high school career as No. 100 receiver in country.

8 Dominic Thieman 6-3 190 So. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Broken ankle eight games into last season shut him down as he appeared to be hitting his stride and kept St. Thomas Aquinas grad out of spring ball.

85 Andrew Trainer 6-7 265 R-Fr. Alexandria, Va. The biggest tight end on the Illini roster was the No. 27 tight end in the Class of 2016 and chose the Illini after originally committing to Virginia.

*11 Malik Turner 6-3 200 Sr. Springfield Serious Drake fan — in a big way — returns after leading the Illini in receptions (48), receiving yards (712) and receiving touchdowns (six) last year.

83 Bobby Walker 6-4 230 So. Golf Walk-on tight end played for ex-Illini linebacker John Holecek at Loyola Academy and was part of the Ramblers' 2013 Class 8A state runner-up team.

Offensive linemen

*53 Nick Allegretti 6-4 325 Jr. Frankfort Will start on the Illini line, but it won't necessarily be at center even though he was named to the Rimington Award watch list earlier this month.

76 Larry Boyd 6-6 360 Fr. St. Louis Boyd and "road grader blocker" might end up being synonymous, and the Trinity Catholic product has the size to compete immediately for the Illini.

73 Jake Cerny 6-5 305 R-Fr. Traverse City, Mich. Cerny was recruited as a tackle out of Traverse City West High School, but the former three-star recruit could also play at guard.

*67 Christian DiLauro 6-5 300 Sr. Uniontown, Ohio The most experienced offensive lineman on the roster, DiLauro has made 31 straight starts at tackle during the last 2 1 / 2 seasons.

66 Jordan Fagan 6-6 300 Sr. Chula Vista, Calif. Fagan has lined up at guard in his Illinois career, but he joined the Illini for the 2015 season as the No. 14 JUCO tackle and could slide outside.

75 Kurt Gavin 6-4 295 R-Fr. Mokena. Gavin didn't play football until his freshman year at Mokena, so the Illinois coaching staff can still mold him at either tackle or guard.

*65 Doug Kramer 6-2 300 R-Fr. Hinsdale. The 2015 West Suburban Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year might find way into starting spot on line as Joe Spencer's replacement at center.

79 Vederian Lowe 6-5 340 Fr. Rockford. The Rockford Auburn product gives Illinois some of the same type of size as Boyd, and the Illini strength staff should help further refine his body.

71 Zeke Martin 6-5 300 So. Medina, Ohio. The former consensus three-star recruit has yet to play a down for the Illini, but a thin depth chart could open up an opportunity this fall.

*72 Gabe Megginson 6-5 305 So. Jacksonville. Potential is as big as his personality, but the former four-star prospect is still searching for the consistency to take full advantage of the former.

63 Alex Palczewski 6-6 285 Fr. Mount Prospect. One of the last commits in the 2017 class, the wrestler, water polo player and track and field athlete picked Illinois over Syracuse and Vanderbilt.

*52 Adam Solomon 6-6 310 So. Indianapolis. Illini hope he ends up with a career like his favorite athlete — fellow Bishop Chatard alum and Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Zack Martin.

68 Jake Stover 6-3 295 Fr. Chicago. Preferred walk-on lists former Illinois lineman David Diehl, a Brother Rice product who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, as his favorite athlete.

Defensive linemen

*47 Sean Adesanya 6-3 250 Jr. Rahway, N.J. Injuries have kept the former top 15 JUCO product from playing the past two seasons, but the Nigerian-born defensive end had a strong spring.

99 Owen Carney Jr. 6-3 240 Fr. Miami Carney, one of the top 2017 recruits in all of Miami, got a jump start on the rest of Illinois' freshmen defensive linemen by enrolling in January.

*5 James Crawford 6-2 225 Sr. Deerfield, Fla. Crawford's progression through the entire Illinois defense, from safety to defensive end, culminates in his final season with the Illini.

92 Isaiah Gay 6-3 215 Fr. Nashville, N.C. Gay was the last member of the 2017 class to sign — eight days after Signing Day — after finishing his senior season with 117 tackles and 17 sacks.

53 Kendrick Green 6-4 300 Fr. Peoria Represented the U.S. at the IFAF World Championships in China, won a Class 5A state title in 2016 and could play right away for the Illini this fall.

48 Kevin Hinders 6-5 235 Fr. Champaign The St. Thomas More grad makes sure at least one local remains on the Illini roster after former Centennial long snapper Michael Martin's graduation.

*95 Kenyon Jackson 6-0 290 So. Little Rock, Ark. Jackson, son of six-time Pro Bowl tight end Keith Jackson, missed final two games of 2016 season with injury after working his way into a starting spot.

*55 Jamal Milan 6-3 300 So. Chicago After early season-ending injury in 2015, he emerged as defensive tackle starter last season and set a career high with two forced fumbles at Rutgers.

94 Tito Odenigbo 6-3 310 Jr. Centerville, Ohio Odenigbo might have attended the same high school as former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, but he grew up a fan of Juice Williams and the Illini.

90 Lere Oladipo 6-3 265 Fr. Chicago Illinois' strong in-state recruiting in Class of 2017 (10 signed prospects) boosted by Oladipo, a Huntley grad and the No. 34 defensive end in nation.

96 Tymir Oliver 6-4 285 So. Sharon Hill, Pa. Played primarily on special teams last season but was singled out by Lovie Smith at Big Ten media days as having a strong spring's worth of practices.

98 Deon Pate 6-3 245 Fr. Jacksonville, Fla. Illinois loaded up on defensive ends in 2017 class looking for some pass rushers, and Pate could deliver after notching 15 sacks as a high school senior.

97 Bobby Roundtree 6-5 245 Fr. Largo, Fla. Illinois made late push for Roundtree, snagging him from Big Ten rival Indiana, and the Florida product's signed NLI was last to arrive on Signing Day.

91 Jamal Woods 6-2 255 Fr. Hueytown, Ala. The only Alabama native on roster, Woods racked up 47 tackles — eight for loss — two sacks and a forced fumble in his senior season at Hueytown.


34 Christion Abercrombie 6-1 225 R-Fr. Atlanta High school teammates with fellow Illini linebacker Julian Jones, Abercrombie was late flip from Western Kentucky to Illinois before Signing Day 2016.

35 Jake Hansen 6-2 230 So. Tarpon Springs, Fla. Father Shad is BYU's leading tackler and younger Hansen, one of several freshmen to play last year, made his first career start against Minnesota.

9 Dele Harding 6-1 235 So. Elkton, Md. Harding missed the final three games last season with an injury after playing primarily on special teams — a role that could increase this fall.

*2 Julian Jones 6-2 220 Jr. Atlanta Jones ended up as a part-time starter in 2016 and had a breakout game at the Big House with a career-high 11 tackles (five solo) at Michigan.

10 James Knight 5-10 205 Fr. East St. Louis Illinois' season opener will pit Knight against his older brother, Kenny Knight Jr., a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle at Ball State.

41 Jimmy Marchese 6-2 220 So. Vernon Hills Walk-on out of Stevenson played in seven games, primarily on special teams, last season and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.

54 Marc Mondesir 6-2 220 Fr. Chicago Mondesir had a breakout performance at an Illinois team camp early last June, got an offer soon after and then committed immediately to the Illini.

44 Drew Murtaugh 6-3 225 R-Fr. Crystal Lake Murtaugh, a walk-on out of Crystal Lake South, is the son of former Illinois baseball player Joseph Murtaugh, who played for the Illini from 1985-88.

*3 Del'Shawn Phillips 6-2 220 Jr. Highland Park, Mich. Illinois has a need at linebacker after losing Hardy Nickerson and Phillips, a JUCO national champion a year ago, could slide right into the lineup.

52 Ayo Shogbonyo 6-2 230 R-Fr. Arlington, Texas Shogbonyo earned second team all-state honors as an offensive lineman and honorable mention at linebacker as a senior at Mansfield Summitt.

*33 Tre Watson 6-2 235 Jr. Tampa Watson will anchor the middle of the Illinois defense returning after a 102-tackle season a year ago as he transitioned into a starting role.

32 Justice Williams 6-3 220 So. Frisco, Texas Following redshirt season in 2015, he played primarily on special teams last fall with one start at linebacker; could have a bigger role this season.

Defensive backs

6 Tony Adams 6-0 190 Fr. Belleville Had several suitors despite missing most of senior season at St. Louis University High with a torn left ACL, and Illinois snared him away from Missouri.

28 Nolan Bernat 5-10 190 So. Bartlett Walk-on joined the Illini for the 2017 season after playing last year at College of DuPage where he had 15 tackles and six pass breakups.

20 Harvey Clayton Jr. 6-2 215 R-Fr. Miami Clayton's father, Harvey Sr., played at Florida State and spent five years in NFL as a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants.

24 Dawson DeGroot 6-1 185 Fr. Fort Myers, Fla. DeGroot's late commitment after totaling 96 tackles and three fumble recoveries his senior year further helped shore up Illinois' defensive back depth

*1 Jaylen Dunlap 6-1 190 Sr. Chicago Dunlap has yet to intercept a pass in an Illinois jersey, but Crete-Monee grad has his sights set on hauling in 10 this season as a personal goal he's set.

*7 Stanley Green 5-11 195 So. East St. Louis Green ultimately become a full-time starter at free safety and finished fifth on the team with 62 tackles to go with three forced fumbles.

27 Ahmari Hayes 6-3 190 Sr. Davis, Calif. Hayes started last year's opener against Murray State, but transitioned into a primarily special teams role as the season progressed.

25 Nate Hobbs 6-0 180 Fr. Louisville, Ky. Hobbs had interest from Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky, but has the type of length and athleticism Illinois has targeted in the secondary.

37 Zac Holman 6-1 190 Jr. Cronulla, Australia A rugby player for eight years in Australia, Holman started playing football in 2011 and joined the Illini last September as a walk-on.

30 Julian Hylton 6-1 205 Jr. Tinley Park A strong training camp last fall vaulted Hylton into the starting lineup at strong safety for three games before he was moved to a backup role.

12 Chris James 5-11 195 Jr. Orange, Texas The West Orange-Stark product carved out a niche at nickelback in Illinois defense last year and had 23 tackles and three pass breakups on season.

26 Evan Jones 6-2 190 R-Fr. Atlanta The Illini secondary could get a boost in athleticism with Jones, who was a state qualifier in the hurdles and long jump in Georgia's biggest class.

42 Michael Marchese 6-3 190 Fr. Vernon Hills Stevenson grad is younger brother of Illini linebacker Jim and former Maryland linebacker Joe and twin brother of Iowa receiver Henry.

*21 Patrick Nelson 6-2 210 So. Chicago Torn left ACL kept him off field in 2015, but he made up for it last fall, finishing third on Illini with 75 tackles to earn BTN All-Freshman Team honors.

23 Frank Sumpter 5-10 185 So. Cleveland Sumpter, who made his first two career starts in 2016, is a Ted Ginn Sr. disciple out of Glenville just like ex-Illini V'Angelo Bentley and Justin Hardee.

*31 Cameron Watkins 6-0 190 So. Nashville, Tenn. One of the fastest players on the team, Watkins saw his role increase throughout last season where he played in nine games and made two starts.

4 Bennett Williams 6-0 195 Fr. Campbell, Calif. Williams' father, Garey, was a defensive back at California in the mid-1980s on the same defense as Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.


37 Bryce Baringer 6-3 190 Fr. Waterford, Mich. Baringer attended the same high school — Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac, Mich., — as Illinois righthander and designated hitter Luke Shilling.

14 Blake Hayes 6-6 230 Fr. Melbourne, Australia. Played Australian rules football for three years in high school, but the third-tallest FBS punter in the country has yet to play the American version.

17 James McCourt 6-1 215 R-Fr. Parkland, Fla. McCourt, who won state championships at St. Thomas Aquinas in 2012, 2014 and 2015, was ranked as high as the No. 9 kicker in the Class of 2016

*43 Chase McLaughlin 6-1 175 Jr. Cypress, Texas. McLauglin is the lone Illini specialist with game experience after making 12 of 17 field goals and all 26 of his PATs last season.

*58 Sean Mills 6-3 215 R-Fr. Metuchen, N.J. Played both football and lacrosse at St. Joseph High School and is one of two long snappers on the Illini roster competing to replace Michael Martin.

56 Ethan Tabel 6-0 200 R-Fr. Barrington. Tabel, who is fluent in German and wants to pursue football or international advertising, started long snapping as a junior in high school.

*40 Ryan Tucker 6-3 200 Jr. Chicago. Didn't see game action in 2016 but is only punter on the roster trying to replace Ryan Frain that has worked with special teams coach Bob Ligashesky.

Coaching staff

Lovie Smith, Head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Year 2 was good one for Smith at his last head coaching stops, going from 5-11 to 11-5 with the Bears and 2-14 to 6-10 with Bucs.

Garrick McGee, Offensive coord./Quarterbacks, Louisville. Former Louisville OC can put "coached a Heisman winner" on his résumé after Lamar Jackson won for his stellar 2016 season.

Hardy Nickerson, Defensive coord./Linebackers, San Francisco 49ers. Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker finished 16-year playing career with 1,584 tackles, 21 sacks, 14 fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions.

Mike Phair, Run game coord./Defensive line, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The lone holdover from the Bill Cubit era, Phair played at Arizona State for Lovie Smith and with Garrick McGee.

Bob Ligashesky, Special teams/Tight ends, Houston Texans. A dozen seasons passed between college coaching jobs for Ligashesky, who worked in NFL from 2004-15 after four seasons at Pitt.

Donnie Abraham, Safeties, IMG Academy. Lone newcomer on staff played for Smith and with Nickerson for Tampa Bay and is in first season as college coach.

Luke Butkus, Offensive line, Jacksonville Jaguars. Nephew of UI great Dick Butkus is tied with Phair for longest tenured Illini coach now in his third season in C-U (2012, 2016-).

Andrew Hayes-Stoker, Wide receivers, Indianapolis Colts. Like Smith, he played college football at Tulsa before transferring to TCU to finish his career in the Horned Frogs backfield.

Thad Ward, Running backs coach, Northern Illinois. Former Central Florida kick returner and wide receiver is considered Smith's top recruiter among the assistant coaching staff.

Paul Williams, Cornerbacks, Miami. Set a then Division I-AA playoff record with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown for Delaware in 1995.

* — projected starter

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