Illini starting linebacker Hansen out for season with serious knee injury

Illini starting linebacker Hansen out for season with serious knee injury

URBANA — Illinois starting linebacker Jake Hansen has a “serious knee injury that will require surgery,” coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday. Hansen is out for the season.

“Jake was having an outstanding year,” Smith said. “DelShawn Phillips will move into Jake’s spot and we’ll keep moving.”

Hansen, a sophomore from Tarpon Springs, Fla., will redshirt this season and have three years of eligibility remaining.

“It’s always disappointing when you have a guy (injured)  who played the way Jake has,” Smith said. “He’s going to be an outstanding football player. Simple as that. But injuries are a part of it. For a guy like Jake, he’s fought through adversity before so he’ll fight through this. But we’ll miss him.”

Smith said the surgery has not been scheduled yet.

“He needs to let the knee calm down a little bit,” Smith said. “No rush right now. We’ll get it done as soon as possible.”

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The Illini had a two-hour workout Tuesday at the Campus Recreation Fields. Smith plans to stay there for the rest of the week, then move to the fields next to Memorial Stadium on Monday.

“That was our plan all along,” Smith said.

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BTN made its Illinois stop Tuesday — the 13th of 14 campus visits. Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo, Dave Revsine, Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux will be at Northwestern today.

Smith said the network helps his program.

“We do recruit everywhere and part of our recruiting pitch is ‘no matter where you are, you’ll have a chance to see us,’” Smith said. “We’re going to be on TV each game. The Big Ten Network is an important part of that.

“We want to get our brand of football out there and this is a vehicle to do that.”

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What did the BTN announcers think about the Illini?

“Just a young team,” said Dienhart, a senior writer for “That’s what caught my eye the most. You wonder how much they can get done with so much youth.”

The Illini were the youngest team BTN has seen on its tour.

“Without a doubt,” Dienhart said. “I don’t think it’s close.”

Illinois has just nine seniors on the roster.

The payoff, Dienhart said, will come in future seasons.

“The pains of youth, hopefully you reap the rewards sooner rather than later,” Dienhart said. “In 2018, 2019, you’d like to think this team is pushing for bowls.”

Dienhart was impressed with the Illinois receivers: Mikey Dudek, Malik Turner. Sam Mays, Ricky Smalling and the rest.

“The key is who is going to get them the ball,” Dienhart said. “Can Chayce Crouch deliver the ball? That’s going to be the key.”

On defense, Dienhart liked what he saw of the linebackers.

“That may be the strength,” Dienhart said.

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When DiNardo watched the Illini practice last year, the team had a dropback quarterback (Wes Lunt). With Crouch now the starter, the offense has changed.

“Going into the second year of a program, if you can build your offense around a quarterback who is going to be around for a couple of years, I think that’s a good thing,” DiNardo said. “I think the changes are going to be good.”

Defensively, DiNardo said, the Illini will miss the linemen from last year.

“I think they feel really good about the young guys,” DiNardo said. “It’s just going to take some time.

“Not real physical on defense. I worry about that in the West Division with the downhill running teams. They’ll probably match up better as a defense against the spread teams.”

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Nobody at BTN has a better feel for the Illinois program than Griffith. The two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos once ran for eight touchdowns in a game at Illinois —  an FBS record.

“It’s always exciting to come back down to the University of Illinois and see how things have changed,” said Griffith, who lives in Chicago.

When Griffith was at Illinois, bowl games were routine, Not now. The last came in 2014.

“Once you’ve been able to achieve success, you can get back to it,” Griffith said. “Things have to fall into place. When I look at Illinois football, I think a lot of what’s happening is the lack of stability at the head coaching position. When you don’t have that stability there, you’re going to have constant change. The culture is constantly changing. The teams that were able to have success here, there was great confidence in the head coach.”

Griffith is a fan of Smith’s.

“There’s no question in my mind that he’s got the program headed in the right direction,” Griffith said. 

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Griffith’s son Houston is a star defensive back at IMG Academy in Florida. No decision has been made, but his offers include Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Texas and Notre Dame.

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Illinois is an eight-point favorite against Ball State according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.

In other Big Ten openers, Ohio State is a 20-point pick against Indiana, Minnesota is favored by 26 against Buffalo, Rutgers is a 30-point underdog against Washington, Wisconsin is a 28-point pick against Utah State, Michigan State is favored by 18 against Bowling Green and Iowa is a 12-point pick against Wyoming. 

Penn State is favored by 33 against Akron, Purdue is a 25-point underdog against Louisvile, Nebraska is a 16-point choice against Arkansas State, Northwestern is favored by 24 against Nevada, Maryland is a 17-point underdog against Texas and Michigan is a four-point choice against Florida.