Since the beginning of the Bret Bielema era of Illinois football, things have seemed to trend upward for the Orange and Blue.
The light has begun to shine even brighter with some recent preseason recognition. Illini fans have plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season. Along with the upgraded quarterback room, the returning upperclassmen, and the incoming young guns, the Illini have had multiple players included on preseason award watch lists.
Multiple Illinois football players are getting national recognition.
Brown became the first Illini to be named to a watch list when he was included on the Maxwell Award watch list on July 18.
This award is given to the college player of the year and is presented in honor of Robert Maxwell – a college football legend, official, and sports journalist.
Notable winners of the award include Joe Burrow (2019), Lamar Jackson (2016), Derrick Henry (2015), and the Manning brothers among many other college football legends.
Not only was Brown named to this list, but the Illini standout also made the Doak Walker Award watch list – an award given to the best running back in college football.
Calvin Hart Jr.
Hart was recognized as one of the nation’s premier linebackers when he was included on the Butkus Award watch list on July 25. This award is given to the best linebacker in the country in honor of Illinois football legend Dick Butkus.
"“When a player receives the Butkus Award he will know two things. First, he is recognized as the best of the best linebackers in America. Second, and in the long run most important, he will understand that this recognition brings a responsibility to serve others by giving back.”Dick Butkus"
Notable past winners of this award include Roquan Smith (2017), Jaylon Smith (2015), Luke Kuechly (2011), Von Miller (2010), and Patrick Willis (2006).
Hart transferred to Illinois in January of 2021, shortly after Bielema’s arrival.
Palczewski was named to the Outland Trophy watch list for the second time on July 26. This trophy is given to the nation’s best interior offensive lineman by the Football Writers Association of America in honor of John Outland – a former All-American offensive lineman.
The senior will enter the 2022 season as the Illini’s most experienced and versatile offensive lineman with 52 career starts – 36 at tackle and 16 at guard.
Junior tight end Luke Ford was tabbed as one of the nation’s best tight ends when he was included on the Mackey Award watch list on July 22.
The award is given to the country’s best tight end. Kyle Pitts (2020), T.J Hockenson (2018), Mark Andrews (2017), Hunter Henry (2015), and Tyler Eifert (2012), are some recent notable recipients.
Last season, Ford started all 12 games, finishing fifth on the team with 15 receptions going for 114 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
With the addition of Syracuse transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito and the departure of former tight end Daniel Barker, Ford will likely play a vital role in the 2022 Illini offense.