Smith: 'Divorce is good sometime'

Smith: 'Divorce is good sometime'

CHAMPAIGN — Lou Dorsey’s decision to transfer caught his teammates by surprise Monday night. The sophomore tight end released a statement on Twitter, noting it was in his “best interest” to leave Illinois and continue his football career elsewhere.

Less than 12 hours later, though, the Illini were back to practice at Memorial Stadium in preparation for Saturday’s 11 a.m. showdown with No. 23 Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

“You don’t expect guys to leave, but it happens,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said on Tuesday morning. “Then you’re a former player, and we move on. Not a whole lot more to say besides that. He’s not with our program anymore.

“We want players that want to be here. Our focus is on that. Divorce is good sometime.”

Freshman wide receiver Carlos Sandy said he didn’t see Dorsey’s transfer coming and that it was tough to handle because he and Dorsey, both Florida natives, had developed a close relationship in the last several months. He was also close with former quarterback Cam Thomas (left the team) and former safety Bennett Williams (dismissed from the team).

“We don’t really have an effect on that,” Sandy said about players leaving. “The only thing we can do is talk to them, but they’re going to do what they want to do at the end of the day.”

Dorsey’s decision to transfer made him the fourth player to leave the program since in the last five weeks. Thomas left the team Sept. 6 and after securing his release, officially announced his intent to transfer Monday night after giving some consideration to rejoining the team next season. Freshman offensive lineman Reuben Unije also transferred, and Williams was dismissed from the team last Thursday after another violation of team rules.

Smith recruited and signed all four players, but the third-year Illini said he wasn’t concerned by the number of players he’s lost throughout the season.

“Not at all,” he said. “Those are players that didn’t need to be in our program. They’re not here anymore, so we’re pumped up about the guys that are in our program right now.

“They put out statements, so you go with that statement. As far as I’m concerned, we’re focusing on the guys that are here right now that want to be in our program. Guys that don’t want to be in our program, we don’t want them to be in our program. No more than that.”

Dorsey was named to the 2018 Mackey Award watch list heading into this season after he caught 22 passes for 395 yards and a team-high three touchdowns in 2017. The next several months were more tumultuous for the 6-foot-6, 235-pound tight end.

Dorsey was held out of spring practices because of unspecified off-the-field issues and then was suspended the first three games this season for an unspecified violation of team rules. He appeared in two games after his suspension — travelling to New Jersey but not playing against Rutgers in between — but did not have a reception.

Illinois will continue to rely on true freshman Daniel Barker at tight end.

“It’s not going to be much change,” Barker said. “One man left. The next man has got to step up. I’ve been there before. I’ve been starting since the season started. I can play on the biggest level there is in the Big Ten.

“It’s real hard to see (Dorsey) go, but we’ve got to move forward. It’s not pressure. There hasn’t been pressure since I started the season.”

Barker, a 6-4, 245-pound freshman, made his Illini debut in the season opener and has split starting duties evenly with redshirt senior Austin Roberts.

“We’ve all got to step up now,” Roberts said. “It’s next man up. To be honest with you, there’s six of us left, and every single one of us can go out there and make a play. We’re all ready to do so.”

Barker has seven receptions for 49 yards in six games. No other tight end on the Illinois roster has a single reception this season.

“Daniel was going to be the tight end that was playing this week,” Smith said. “The emphasis was already on Daniel and what the rest of the group could do. We’ve seen him make some plays. He’s still a young player that’s developing, but he’s got good size, good ability and he’s got a good future ahead of him.”