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Illini Football All Decade Team – My Picks May 4, 2011

If you haven’t yet done so, please head over to FightingIllini.com and vote for the Illini Football All Decade Team.  Go do it now, and then come back here to see my answers.

Seriously, go ahead. I don’t want my picks to poison your votes.  I can wait.

Finished?

Alright, here’s how I voted.  My picks for each category, followed by my reasoning.

Wide Receiver (3)
Arrelious Benn
Brandon Lloyd
Walter Young

Easy peasy. Best wide receiver of the Zook era, best wide receiver of the Turner era, and best wide receiver to catch a pass in the corner of the end zone during overtime of the 2002 Ohio State game, have possession, and get his foot down. #bitter

Running Back (3)
Rashard Mendenhall
Antoineo Harris
Mikel Leshoure

When the voting is finalized, Pierre Thomas will be the third guy based on his NFL success. But it absolutely should be Antoineo Harris joining Rashard and Mikel.  If Robert Holcombe didn’t play football at Illinois, Harris would be the leading rusher in school history.  He holds the #2 career and the #3 season rushing marks.  He has to be on there.

Quarterback (2)
Kurt Kittner
Juice Williams

Duh.

Tight End (1)
Michael Hoomanawanui

What a had-potential-but-never-really-lived-up-to-it list.  I remember telling anyone who would listen how good Mel Bryant or Brian Hodges would be before they left Champaign.  Oh, by the way, Evan Wilson will be really, really good before he leaves Champaign.  For real.

Offensive Line (6)
Jeff Allen
Jon Asamoah
Luke Butkus
David Diehl
Martin O’Donnell
Tony Pashos

First 5 were pretty easy for me.  All of them had fantastic senior seasons (including Jeff Allen – I can see it).  I wavered on a few guys for the sixth – Pocic will lead off the 2010′s list, Fulton became a great tackle, Preston was very underrated… but I think it’s Pashos.  The man was a mountain.

Place-Kicker (1)
Derek Dimke

By a whisker over Jason Reda (with Christofilakos not far behind him). Dimke’s kickoffs probably give him the edge.  And he has a good chance to finish his career as the most accurate kicker in Illinois history.  He’s currently in first, having hit 29 of 34 field goals in his career.

Defensive Line (5)
Corey Liuget
Brandon Moore
Chris Norwell
Derrick Strong
Will Davis

This might have been the most difficult position to choose.  Liuget was a no-brainer (best Illini defensive tackle in 20 years), and Moore was an easy choice (anchor of the defenses in the early part of the decade).  And Chris Norwell is probably the most underrated – it’s too bad he played on so many poor teams.  After that, Strong was next on my list.  He led the 2002 and 2003 teams in sacks and tackles for loss.  And for the last spot, I went with Will Davis.  His 9.5 sacks in 2007 were the most single-season sacks for an Illini player since this guy named Simeon Rice.

Linebacker (4)
J Leman
Jerry Schumacher
Brit Miller
Martez Wilson

I very nearly put the four linebackers who played in the Rose Bowl (including Antonio Steele). But career stats put Schumacher ahead of Steele. J is a no-brainer here, Brit was always underrated, and Martez’s great 2010 season edges out Antonio Steele’s great 2007 season.

Defensive Backs (5)
Eugene Wilson
Christian Morton
Vontae Davis
Kevin Mitchell
Alan Ball

The first four were easy. Eugene Wilson might be the biggest no-brainer on the entire team. He had 30 – thirty – passes broken up in 2001 (Alan Ball led the 2005 team with 5 PBU’s). Christian Morton ranks second all time in PBU’s (behind Wilson), Vontae was great in his three years in Champaign, and Kevin Mitchell had more game-changing plays during the 2007 season than any Illini safety I can remember. I considered many players for the 5th spot, from the Jackson brothers to Muhammad Abdullah to Kelvin Hayden’s one year in the secondary, but I settled on Ball. Mostly because the extremely lean years (2003-2006) need to be represented on this list, and Ball was one of our best players during that era.

Punter (1)
Steve Weatherford

Duh.

Return Specialist (1)
Pierre Thomas

Almost put Eugene Wilson here, but Pierre needs to be on this team. Also, Pierre Thomas was the best kickoff return man at Illinois since Red Grange. (Yes, I’m serious.)

~awaits old-timer to come along with tales of Chubby Phillips~

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3 Comments
ATOillini May 6th, 2011

Interesting coincidence that I read this post yesterday morning and then happen to watch a bit of Illinois vs. Penn State, November 2001 on the BTN last night. Seemed liked 50% of the names you have here I saw on the screen….plus Robby Gould kicking for PSU.
As a footnote, why is at that those games look so weird when you watch them 10 years later? Seems almost funny….

Robert May 6th, 2011

I agree. Our uniforms from 2001 look like they’re from the late 70′s.
And I always get a chuckle out of the shoulder pads for the early 90′s teams. Did the guy with the widest shoulder pads win some kind of award or something? I swear Kameno Bell’s shoulder pads had the wingspan of Mike Davis.

ChainSaw May 7th, 2011

Someone who didn’t put up the best stats but who was the undisputed leader on defense for many of the years he played was Justin Hairson. Kevin Mitchell got some timely picks playing centerfield on D for that 2007 team, but it was Hairson who laid wood early and often in just about every game in 2007 that set the tone that we had come into the game with the intent of punching teams in the mouth…I especially recall big hits early against OSU and USC.