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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois running back Mike Epstein currently isn’t on the University of Illinois campus, Illini coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday afternoon, and the senior’s future with the Illini presently is unclear.

Bielema also added linebacker Jake Hansen and offensive lineman Alex Palczewski aren’t going through spring ball. Hansen, a second-team All-Big Ten linebacker last season, announced earlier this month he would return to Illinois for a sixth season instead of pursuing the NFL draft. Palczewski is recovering after offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL.

But unlike Hansen or Palczewski Epstein isn’t in Illinois at the moment.

“I’ve had several conversations with Mike. Mike’s back in Florida taking classes,” Bielema said of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. “Just trying to steer him as best as possible. Whether or not he returns in the fall is strictly in his hands. I’ve invited him back and told him we’d love to have him be a part of the team.

“It’s just not my position to comment on it at all, so (I) put it in his hands on what he wants to do.”

Epstein has spent four injury-riddled seasons with the Illini, playing in 20 games during that time. The 6-foot, 205-pound Epstein produced 367 yards and four touchdowns via 69 carries during the 2020 campaign, playing in seven of eight games.

Epstein missed seven games during his freshman season of 2017, five more in 2018 and all but one of Illinois’ games in 2019 because of various season-ending injuries.

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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