Football players honored with postseason awards

By Lisa Koulias

The 2004 football season didn’t go as planned for Illinois football.

The team went 3-8, winning only one Big Ten game. The season was topped off with a devastating, overtime loss to Northwestern and the firing of head coach Ron Turner.

But amidst the disappointment, several Illini were recognized for their efforts on the field.

Junior punter Steve Weatherford and senior cornerback Kelvin Hayden were named to the 2004 All-Big Ten teams last week. Weatherford was selected to the first team by the coaches and second team by the media, while both groups selected Hayden to the second team.

Weatherford, a 2004 Ray Guy Award semifinalist, finished the season ranked fourth in the nation in punting average. He set the school record for single-season average with 45.4 yards per punt, surpassing his own record set the previous year. He helped his team to a 12th-place ranking in net punting, downing 23 of his 57 punts inside the 20-yard line. Twenty of his punts went for more than 50 yards, while his longest was a 79-yarder against Iowa.

In the last game of the season, Weatherford had a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on a fake field goal. Against Indiana he rushed for 12 yards on a fake punt in the first quarter to convert the first down.

Hayden, who was the team’s leading receiver in 2003, switched to cornerback this season. The senior finished the 2004 season as the team leader in interceptions with four, which also puts him first in the Big Ten. He recorded 71 tackles, six passes broken-up, a forced fumble and a blocked punt. He is Illinois’ nominee for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.

Three other Illini players were selected to the honorable mention list. Senior offensive linemen Bucky Babcock and Duke Preston and sophomore running back Pierre Thomas were recognized by the Big Ten coaches.

Babcock and Preston combined for 82 starts and were both members of a record-setting offense in 2002. The two helped create holes for Thomas, who rushed for 893 yards, including four 100-yard games. Thomas finished the season as the Big Ten leader in all-purpose yards (151.4) and fifth in both rushing (81.2) and scoring touchdowns (10).