Saturday Afternoon Gridiron Wrap: A Week’s Worth of Illinois Football News

Just as Writing Illini has been doing on Sunday mornings when recapping the previous week’s news on the Illini basketball team, here’s a similar weekly feature on the Fighting Illini football team.

Expect the Saturday Afternoon Gridiron Wrap to last until the first game of the season (September 4th against Missouri) and then pick up again in the offseason.

From Eddie McGee lining up in the wildcat and Terry Hawthorne possibly playing some receiver to Ron Zook discussing his Illini coaching future and Illinois getting verbal commitments from several recruits, these were just some of the headlines to take place around the Fighting Illini football program last week.

Illini Player News

  • Although senior Eddie McGee (bottom right) has been officially moved from quarterback to wide receiver, don’t be surprised if he still receives a few snaps this season under new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino’s version of the wildcat formation. While McGee was inconsistent in the traditional quarterback setting (with only 3 career touchdown passes to 6 interceptions), Petrino believes that McGee can perform better under the non-traditional wildcat formation and take some pressure off freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
  • When arriving at Illinois from East St. Louis High School prior to the 2009 season, Parade All-American Terry Hawthorne (left) was expected to play wide receiver. However, to help a defense that was 9th in the conference in yards allowed, Hawthorne was moved to cornerback, where he made this huge play against Michigan. Coming into his sophomore season, Hawthorne is expected to lead the Illinois defense as one of its potential stars, all the while possibly taking a few reps at wide receiver.
  • As for news that Illini fans would rather avoid hearing, Illinois sophomore defensive back Walter Aikens began serving a two-week jail sentence on Thursday for a misdemeanor theft charge. Aikens was arrested on April 21st for possessing a computer that was stolen from a dorm and is currently suspended from the team.
  • On a more positive note, here’s a story about sophomore defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who is expected to be a backup this season for the Illini.

Illini Coaching/Team News

  • In a recent interview with ESPN, head coach Ron Zook discussed his outlook going into what is a very pivotal season for both himself and the Illinois football program:

    I don’t worry about the job. You don’t go into a season or a game worrying about your job security. You do the best you can do. You do everything you can do. If it’s good enough, great. If it’s not good enough, you take the next job.

    Zook’s current record with Illinois is 21-39, 12-27 in the Big Ten.

  • Louisiana Tech has been added to Illinois’ football schedule for the 2012 season, with the Bulldogs scheduled to visit Memorial Stadium.

Illini Recruiting News

  • On Wednesday, Illinois added another player to its 2010 recruiting class when incoming freshman safety Ftitz Rock committed to the Fighting Illini. Rock, a three star recruit, graduated in 2008 from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, where he helped his team win a state championship during his senior season. Due to personal and academic reasons, Rock sat out the 2009 college season. Rock also had offers from Indiana, Minnesota, and Cincinnati, and is expected to join the Illini when preseason practices begin at Camp Rantoul.  
  • Joliet Catholic running back Josh Ferguson has verbally committed (top middle) to the University of Illinois for 2011. Ferguson averaged 9 yards per rush and scored 20 touchdowns as a junior for the Hilltoppers. While not a particularly strong back, he is fast, sporting a sub 4.5 40-yard dash time, and able to change direction on a dime. Here are some highlights of Ferguson’s junior season.
  • Ted Karras, an offensive guard from Indiana, also committed to the 2011 recruiting class this week. With the addition of Karras, Illinois’ 2011 recruiting class is up to 11 members, which is tied for 4th in the number of recruits in the league (5th if Nebraska, which will be playing in the Big Ten in 2011, is included). Other recruits who have committed to Illinois in recent weeks include Ohio lineman Chris Boles and North Carolina tight end Daniel Rhodes.

Former Illini Player News

  • Former Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn (top right) signed a 4-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday. The Bucs drafted Benn early in the second round of this year’s draft. The sum of the deal was undisclosed. While Benn had suffered a lower leg injury in an offseason workout, he is reportedly fully healed and looking forward to attending the Bucs’ training camp that starts today. Benn was hindered by an ankle injury during his last season at Illinois. On Thursday, the Kansas City Chiefs inked a deal with former Illini offensive lineman Jon Asamoah, who was drafted in the third round of April’s draft.
  • Former Illinois running back Pierre Thomas is working on a multi-year contract extension with the New Orleans Saints after helping the team win last season’s Super Bowl, though the negotiations have been contentious thus far. Thomas is entering his fourth season in the NFL, all of which he has spent with the Saints.
  • Two former Illinois players were inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. Linebacker Simeon Rice and lineman Gerry Sullivan were among the 19 athletes inducted this past week. Both had stellar careers playing football at the University of Illinois and in the NFL.

Until tomorrow and the weekly Illinois basketball wrap.

Tags: Arrelious Benn Camp Rantoul Chris Boles Cincinnati Football Daniel Rhodes Eddie McGee Fritz Rock Gerry Sullivan Illinois Fighting Illini Football Illinois Football Indiana Football Joliet Catholic Joliet Catholic Football Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers Jon Asamoah Josh Ferguson Kansas City Chiefs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Louisiana Tech Football Memorial Stadium Minnesota Football Nathan Scheelhaase New Orleans Sains Paul Petrino Pierre Thomas Rejus Benn Ron Zook Simeon Rice Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ted Karras Terry Hawthorne Walter Aikens Whitney Mercilus