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Statistically speaking, it’s not a stretch to call super senior Blake Hayes the best punter ever at Illinois.

Hayes has overtaken Steve Weatherford as Illinois’ career punting average leader by the slimmest of margins: 43.6 yards to 43.5. And with at least eight games left on the Illini football schedule in 2021, it’s probably too early to officially claim Hayes as Illinois’ all-time all-timer, but some comparisons with Weatherford in other statistical punting categories all but give him the crown.

For example, Hayes has 283 career punts for 12,326 yards. From 2002-05, Weatherford punted the ball 193 times for 8,402 yards.

In terms of punts that were downed inside the 20-yard line, Hayes has 101. Weatherford had 51.

Regarding total punts that sailed 50 yards or more, Hayes currently totals 62 of those. Weatherford had 57.

In the category of fair catches, Hayes’ punts have resulted in 61 of those. Twenty-seven of Weatherford’s punts were fair caught.

Weatherford’s only statistical advantage falls in the category of punts that ended as touchbacks. Hayes has 10 while Weatherford had 27.

As a professional punter, Weatherford sparkled. Through 10 NFL seasons (2006-2015), he averaged 44.5 yards per punt for the Giants, Saints, Jets, Jaguars and Chiefs. Just one of his 678 career punts was blocked. Weatherford’s 30,159 career punting yards puts him in 63rd place on the NFL’s all-time list.

Illini Career Punting Average Leaders (through Sept. 11, 2021):

1. 43.6 yards per punt — Blake Hayes, 2017-present.

2. 43.5 — Steve Weatherford, 2002-05.

3. 41.68 — Steve Fitts, 1998-2001.

4. 41.62 — Justin DuVernois, 2011-14.

5. 40.9 — Ryan Tabloff, 1996-97.

6. 40.8 — Anthony Santella, 2007-10.

7. 40.3 — Bill Brown, 1958-60.

8. 40.1 — Ryan Frain, 2012-16.

9. 39.7 — J.C. Caroline, 1953-54.

10. 39.5 — Brett Larsen, 1992-95.

Illini birthdays:

Sunday: Rich Brooks, cross-country/track and field (67).

Monday: Calvin Hart Jr., football (22).

Tuesday: Scott Spiezio, baseball (49).

Wednesday: Craig Tiley, tennis coach (60).

Thursday: Daniel Barker, football (22).

Friday: Kirby Wilson, football (60).

Saturday: Shadia Haddad, volleyball.

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter at @IlliniLegends and @Spartifacts2021. His website is

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