An open letter to Illini football seniors
December 2, 2019
Dear Illinois football seniors,
It’s time to say goodbye to Zuppke Field and move onto whatever lies beyond.
Almost four years ago, Illinois hired head coach Lovie Smith, although most of you were recruited by the Bill Cubit-Tim Beckman team.
You took a chance on this guy because, well, he’s former NFL coach Smith.
In the first year, people had mostly negative things to say about him, the coach you put your future in the hands of. It probably hurt, but after the season was over, you guys stuck around.
The same can’t be said for many of the teammates you came in with, though. Thank you for sticking it out and drowning out the noise. That’s a lot to ask 18- and 19-year-olds, in terms of maturity, but you all did it.
Thank you for trusting the process, even though many of the spectators told you to leave while you could.
It all paid off, and now you are going bowling.
Watching your growth in my time here has been phenomenal, but watching you this season completely transform into the team you promised to be has to be the best senior-year gift I could’ve received.
The Wisconsin upset will go down as one of my top memories as an Illini, and there are plenty of others in the same category.
We all owe you a “thank you” for showing us what perseverance looks like, for showing us just how important it is to trust the process and for inspiring us.
Thank you, Nolan Bernat, for walking on at defensive back. You’ve seen plenty of action on special teams, making 10 career tackles and making a notable interception against Western Illinois in 2018.
Thank you, Dre Brown, for pushing through injuries and playing 24 games with two career starts. You battled back to become the team’s second-leading rusher this season with 528 yards and four touchdowns, and you’ve become one of the top kick returners in program history.
Thank you, Reggie Corbin. You rank among the top Illini rushers of all time, with 2,330 yards and 17 touchdowns, playing 42 games played and coining 20 stats. Your explosiveness is unmatched.
Thank you, Trenard Davis, for being so versatile. Playing defensive back, quarterback and finally settling in as a wide receiver. You played 24 games and had seven career starts, totaling 40 career catches for 430 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Penn State in 2018.
Thank you, Stanley Green, for being a regular defensive back in the secondary for four years, racking up 248 tackles, nine forced fumbles – third-most in Illini history – six fumble recoveries, and three interceptions.
Thank you, Dele Harding, for leading this team for the last two years. You’re one of the top linebackers in the nation, leading Big Ten in tackles with 132. Your 12.0 tackles-for-losses, three forced fumbles, three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns are all nothing short of amazing.
Thank you, Kenyon Jackson. You’ve been part of the defensive tackle rotation for the past four years with 65 career tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-losses and 2.0 sacks throughout your career.
Thank you, Jamal Milan, a four-year starter at defensive tackle who’s having his best season to date with 31 tackles and 8.5 tackles-for-losses, the most among Big Ten defensive tackles. In your career, you’ve racked up 98 tackles, 13.5 tackles-for-losses, 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Thank you, Tymir Oliver, for being a go-to guy, a consistent starter and a contributor at defensive tackle throughout your career. You’ve racked up 87 career tackles, 11.0 TFLs, eight PBUs and 5.5 sacks.
Thank you, Richie Petitbon, for kicking ‘Bama to the curb and coming to Illinois. You’ve started every game as an offensive lineman and played nearly every snap at right guard, helping the team’s transformation immensely.
Thank you, Caleb Reams. Exceptional blocking in 32 games played and six starts aren’t too shabby. With 15 catches for 150 yards and one touchdown in his career as a wide receiver, you’ve shown just how important you have been to the team.
Thank you, Bobby Walker, for your 36 games played. You’re an AFCA Good Works Team and Wuerffel Trophy nominee, a staple on specials units and as a blocking tight end through your career. You were a walk-on, but you were awarded a scholarship following the 2018 season.
Thank you, Justice Williams, for being adaptable. Playing 46 games, five starts at linebacker, wide receiver and landing at tight end. You’ve been a staple on special teams, making 16 tackles, 14 career catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Thank you, Kurt Gavin, for your contributions as an offensive lineman in the three games played and all the work you put in that we didn’t see.
Thank you, Cam Miller, for being the guy at quarterback when no one else could. You scored a rushing touchdown at Ohio State in 2017 on your first career play – what a break out.
Thank you, Griffin Palmer, for your contributions on special teams, hauling in your first career reception Saturday at Iowa.
Thank you, Ayo Shogbonyo, for sticking with it so we could see your break out season as a defensive lineman with 31 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Thank you, Brandon Jones, for continuing on with the team at Manager after spending three seasons as both tight end and defensive end.
Thank you, Illini seniors.