Sinclair named award nominee

Matt Sinclair rests between stretches at practice in Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. Online Poster

Matt Sinclair rests between stretches at practice in Memorial Stadium on Wednesday. Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

Illinois football used to be known as the linebacker capital of the Big Ten.

It’s been a while since the Illini had a top linebacker of national claim.

But that all changed when linebacker Matt Sinclair was named a Butkus Award candidate Monday.

The 2004 Butkus Award, which is named after former Illini Dick Butkus, is given to the best collegiate linebacker.

“I think it shows that some people have respect for him and what he has done,” said Mike Mallory, defensive coordinator. “But really, what happens at the beginning is not as important as what happens in the end. It’s probably a goal of his, to make that come true at the end of the season. It takes a lot of work and if he is playing at the best of his ability he certainly is capable. He just needs to go out and do it.”

The watch list is trimmed to 10 semifinalists on Oct. 14, and then three finalists will be selected on Nov. 11. Sinclair was one of eight Big Ten defenders nominated.

Sinclair could have the opportunity to join a very prestigious list of Illini linebackers, including Dana Howard and Kevin Hardy. Howard and Hardy were back-to-back winners for the Illini in ’94 and ’95.

Mallory was a finalist for the award in ’85 when he played for Michigan.

“Back then it was just getting going,” Mallory said. “But it was a heck of an honor to be just named for that award and obviously a lot of great linebackers have won that. For Matt to be named in that group it certainly is nice and now he just has to go out and prove himself.”

Sinclair has already done a good job of making a name for himself. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2003. Sinclair led the Illini in total tackles with 129.

A preseason all-conference pick, Sinclair moved to outside linebacker this spring after starting 12 games at the middle last season.

Most of all, Mallory said Sinclair brings excitement to the field and the players.

“He certainly brings enthusiasm,” Mallory said. “At this point he has brought a lot of experience and leadership because of that. People respect him; his peers respect him. (He brings) a lot of energy. He is passionate and he has the ability to make plays so obviously – because of that people look to him as a leader.”