Home > Illinois football > NFL defections a sign of long-term health for Illini?

NFL defections a sign of long-term health for Illini?

Illinois football will take a few big hits this week.

It started Monday when first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Martez Wilson announced he will enter the 2011 NFL Draft. Second-team All-America running back Mikel Leshoure, a junior, is expected to join Wilson in the draft pool when he announces his future plans 10 a.m. Tuesday at Champaign Centennial High School, where he graduated in 2008.

Second-team All-Big Ten defensive tackle Corey Liuget has not yet announced his plans, though he is projected as a first- or second-round prospect. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Saturday.

While the early defections to the NFL likely will hurt the Illini’s 2011 record, sending three more players to the next level is a sign of long-term health for the Illinois program.

Not surprisingly, the schools with the most alumni playing on Sundays have the most success on Saturday.

The colleges represented most in the NFL are: Miami (45 players), LSU (45), Texas (43), USC (42), Ohio State (41), Georgia (40), Tennessee (38), Florida (37), California (34), Oklahoma (33) and Michigan (33). The only teams to play in a BCS championship game that aren’t on that list are Nebraska (30) and Alabama (26). Both just miss the list and Alabama’s number is sure to go quickly with the talent on Nick Saban’s current rosters.

Illinois currently has 21 alumni playing in the NFL, eighth among the 11 current Big Ten teams and ninth if new member Nebraska is added to the list. Eight of the Illini’s NFL players were recruited by Ron Zook and 11 played for the current Illini head coach.

Those are good numbers for a program that has the conference’s second worst record over the past decade.

They show that Zook is bringing talent to Champaign and that the program has developed talent in Champaign and they bring positive attention to the the Illini – something he’s sorely needed since the 2008 Rose Bowl.

Each time David Diehl says he’s from the “University of Chief Illiniwek” on Monday Night Football, it sells the program. Every time Rashard Mendenhall finds the end zone for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Illini are a tad more relevant to a running back recruit.

Mendenhall’s record-setting 2007 season surely helped recruit Mikel Leshoure, who broke Mendenhall’s single-season rushing total this season. Leshoure’s season no doubt helped showcased what running backs can do at Illinois to Donovonn Young, a Katy, Texas, native who witnessed Leshoure run for three touchdowns in the Illini’s 38-14 Texas Bowl victory last month and recently committed to Illinois.

Of course, Zook rarely has had a problem bringing talent to Champaign. Wins on the other hand …

But the program’s first bowl victory in 11 years – aided by the playcalling of coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning – could give the Illini the offseason momentum it needs for continued success rather than blips on the national radar (2002 Sugar Bowl and 2008 Rose Bowl).

And think of the NFL talent Illinois could produce with a string of winning seasons. Without Wilson and Leshoure and maybe Liuget, it’s up to the next crop of Illini NFL prospects (Terry Hawthorne, Justin Green and Graham Pocic?) to help make the thought more of a reality for once.

Following are the number of NFL players on Big Ten teams:

1. Ohio State 41

Record since 2001: 106-22

Notable: Nate Clements, Chris Gamble, A.J. Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis, Donte Whitner, Nick Mangold, Beanie Wells, Donte Whitner, Antoine Winfield

2. Michigan 33

Record since 2001: 79-46

Notable: Tom Brady, Braylon Edwards, David Harris, Charles Woodson, Chad Henne, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long

3. Iowa 30

Record since 2001: 85-41

Notable: Dallas Clark, Robert Gallery, Shonn Greene, Chad Greenway, Aaron Kampman, Bob Sanders

4. Nebraska 30

Notable: Adam Carrikier, Dominic Raiola, Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch

5. Penn State 29

Record since 2001: 79-44

Notable: Levi Brown, Kerry Collins, Robbie Gould, Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin, Jared Odrick, Cameron Wake

6. Purdue 27

Record since 2001: 63-61

Notable: Drew Brees, Dustin Keller, Matt Light, Kyle Orton, Shaun Phillips

7. Michigan State 25

Record since 2001: 66-58

Notable: Flozell Adams, Derrick Mason, Julian Peterson, Drew Stanton

8. Wisconsin 22

Record since 2001: 88-41

Notable: Chris Chambers, Owen Daniels, Lee Evans, Joe Thomas

9. Illinois 21

Record since 2001: 47-73

Notable: Vontae Davis, David, Diehl, Brandon Lloyd, Rashard Mendenhall, Pierre Thomas

10. Northwestern 12

Record since 2001: 60-63

Notable: Luis Castillo, Nick Roach         

11. Minnesota 11

Record since 2001: 59-65

Notable: Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney

12. Indiana 6

Record since 2001: 41-77

Notable: Tracy Porter, Antwaan Randle El

Top 10 nationally: Miami 45, LSU 45, Texas 43, USC 42, Ohio State 41, Georgia 40, Tennessee 38, Florida 37, California 34, Oklahoma 33 and Michigan 33

Categories: Illinois football
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