Five Illini earn All-Big Ten honors

Punter+Blake+Hayes+on+the+sidelines+during+the+second+half+of+the+game+against+the+Rutgers+on+Oct.+30.+Hayes+and+other+players+from+the+team+receive+All-Big+Ten+Honors.+

Cameron Krasucki

Punter Blake Hayes on the sidelines during the second half of the game against the Rutgers on Oct. 30. Hayes and other players from the team receive All-Big Ten Honors.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois wrapped up their regular season with an outstanding 47-14 win against Northwestern this past Saturday. With this conclusion came the All-Big Ten Team selections, as the 5-7 Illini had three members of these teams: Kerby Joseph, Blake Hayes and James McCourt. Along with these three, several members of the Illini scored All Big-Ten honorable mentions from the coaches and media. 

Defensive back Kerby Joseph

Under new defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, Illinois saw huge improvements to all facets of their defense during the 2021 campaign. Defensive back Kerby Joseph was a great example of this improvement, as the senior earned All-Big Ten First Team honors from the media and All-Big Ten Second Team honors from the coaches.

Joseph was vital to the Illinois secondary all throughout the season, and he was Illinois’ first All-Big Ten defensive back since Vontae Davis in 2008. According to Pro Football Focus, the Orlando native was the No. 1 graded defensive back in the nation during the regular season. He tied for the nation lead in interceptions (5) and was third in the country in fumbles recovered (3). 

The three fumble recoveries are tied for the 10th most in Illinois history, and Joseph was one of only three Illini in the last 50 years to have 5+ interceptions and 3+ fumble recoveries. 

Joseph also contributed on special teams, with his tackle on a punt resulting in a safety scoring the first two points of the college football season against Nebraska.

Running back Chase Brown

Head coach Bret Bielema wanted to establish a solid running game during his first season with Illinois, and Chase Brown was a vital part of these plans. 

Brown became the 14th Illini to rush for over 1,000 yards, and he was the third player in program history to have multiple 200-yard rushing games (Howard Griffith in 1990 and Rashard Mendenhall in 2007). Against the Charlotte 49ers, Brown had a career high 257 yards, and in the upset victory versus the Penn State Nittany Lions, he ran for 223 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive lineman Doug Kramer

Over the past five years, Doug Kramer has been one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the country for Illinois. This season, he was ranked as the No. 24 center in the nation by PFF, which earned him All-Big Ten Second Team honors. Kramer received All-Big Ten honorable mentions in each of the last two seasons.

Punter Blake Hayes

Although not the flashiest position on the gridiron, punters can provide a team’s defense with fantastic field position, and Blake Hayes did that all year. For his performance during the season, Hayes received All-Big Ten Third Team honors from the coaches.

The Melbourne, Australia, native broke almost every Illinois punting record during his tenure in Champaign. This year, Hayes was a Ray Guy award semifinalist being one of the top ten punters in the country and was a two-time Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week award winner.

The list of Hayes’ records for Illinois is ridiculously long. The fifth-year senior is the Illini record holder for season punts inside the 20-yard line, season 50+ yard punts, career punt average, career punt yards, career punts inside the 20-yard line and career 50+ yard punts. 

Kicker James McCourt

Illini special teams were outstanding throughout the season, and kicker James McCourt was another example of the team’s excellence in this facet of the game. McCourt went 14-15 on field goals inside of 50 yards, and this was just one of the reasons why the coaches voted him on the All-Big Ten Third Team.

The Ireland native capped off his Illini career and tied the Illinois record for 50+ yard field goals with four, and he went perfect from extra points. He leaves the Illini with the eighth-best career field goal accuracy in program history (37-52, 71.2%) and the most career 50+ yard field goals (8).

Honorable Mentions

Five members of the Illini defense received All-Big Ten honorable mentions for their solid play throughout this past season. These players were defensive back Sydney Brown, outside linebacker Owen Carney Jr., defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton, defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. and defensive back Devon Witherspoon. On the offense, offensive lineman Vederian Lowe and offensive lineman Alex Palczewski received honorable mentions.

 

 

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