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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois football’s top tight end in 2020 will be back with the program in 2021.

Daniel Barker announced via Twitter on Wednesday afternoon that he won’t leave the team early, with the junior set to return as the Illini’s leading pass-catcher from the season prior.

“NOT DONE YET!” Barker wroter on Twitter, accompanied by a highlights video.

Barker posted 19 receptions for 268 yards last year, trailing only Josh Imatorbhebhe in both categories. Barker added two touchdowns, coming in behind Imatorbhebhe and Brian Hightower in that category. In December, Imatorbhebhe declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, opting against using an extra year of eligibility available because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barker has played in 21 games during his Illinois tenure, racking up 46 catches for 625 yards and seven scores. He’ll be under the direction of a new tight ends coach in his senior year, as Cory Patterson has shifted from that role to running backs coach under new Illini coach Bret Bielema.

In other roster news on Wednesday, the Illini added a running back from the transfer portal, but also lost a skill position player to the portal.

Chase Hayden announced via Twitter on Wednesday evening he will transfer to Illinois after previous stops at East Carolina and Arkansas. Meanwhile, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe will transfer after only one season at Illinois, first reported by 247sports on Wednesday.

Imatorbhebhe, the older brother of Josh, produced three catches for 54 yards and one touchdown across five games during his lone Illinois season. Daniel Imatorbhebhe previously was on rosters at Florida and USC between 2015 and 2019.

Hayden, the second FBS transfer to commit to Illinois in as many days after former North Carolina State linebacker C.J. Hart Jr. did so on Tuesday, has previous ties to Bielema

Bielema recruited the 5-foot-10, 210-pound product of Memphis, Tenn., to Arkansas, where Hayden played from 2017 through 2019. Bielema’s last season coaching Arkansas was in 2017.

“Blessed to be able to finish my last two years at the University of Illinois,” Hayden tweeted. “Thank you @BretBielema for the opportunity, I am very grateful. Can’t wait to get to work.”

Hayden compiled 62 yards on 16 carries during the 2020 season with East Carolina, his lone season with the Pirates.

The majority of his college production came as an Arkansas freshman and sophomore. Hayden carried the ball 118 times for 577 yards and five touchdowns in those two seasons, adding 12 catches for 84 yards.

Hayden played in just four of the Razorbacks’ 2019 games — contributing 12 carries for 39 yards — before redshirting and ultimately transferring.

Hayden was ranked a four-star all-purpose back by and a three-star rusher by 247sports prior to his college career. He held an offer from Illinois, as well as offers from Arizona, Florida, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Purdue, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas-San Antonio, Vanderbilt and Virginia.

Hayden is the second running back added to the Illini roster since Tuesday after Enterprise (Ala.) High running back Josh McCray verbally committed to Illinois earlier this week as the first high school commit in the Bielema era.

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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