CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois linebacker Dele Harding emerged during his senior year as one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten both statistically and in terms of the impact he made for the Illini. Harding was honored for his breakout senior season by being named First Team All-Big Ten by the conference media on Tuesday.
Harding led Illinois and the Big Ten with 147 tackles to go with 13 tackles for loss, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. The Elkton, Md., native was named Third Team All-Big Ten by the conference coaches.
Illinois junior Blake Hayes was also named Big Ten Punter of the Year on Tuesday. The 6-foot-6 Australian averaged 44.8 yards per punt, put 28 inside the 20-yard line for an Illini record and 13 inside the 10. Six of his punts were downed at either the 1- or 2-yard line, and he had just two touchbacks.
Three other Illini were honored Tuesday. Junior defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. was named Third Team All-Big Ten by the media, and sophomore safety Sydney Brown earned Third Team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.
Betiku led Illinois with eight sacks and also had 33 tackles, 11 1/2 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries in the regular season despite missing three games. Brown missed two games but had 80 tackles, three interceptions, 2 1/2 tackles for loss and a touchdown.
Redshirt senior Dre Brown was named Third Team All-Big Ten as a kick returner by the conference coaches. Brown averaged 26.3 yards per return to rank seventh in program history, and he was the top-graded kick returner in the Big Ten by Pro Football Focus.