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.
Alright, here’s how I voted. My picks for each category, followed by my reasoning.
Wide Receiver (3)
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)
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.
Tight End (1)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
Return Specialist (1)
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~