Illini Football 2020 Scholarship Player Positional Guide

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- For one of the first years of the Lovie Smith era, Illinois football will either be at or close to the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players on the roster.

In an effort to retool the roster for future seasons, the Illini have been notorious about holding scholarships back in effort to be active in the offseason market for transfer portal players and build up for a 2021 recruiting class that is supposed to replenish the roster after 24 scholarship seniors or graduate transfer players depart the roster due to graduation.

------------------

OFFENSE

------------------

NOTES: The Illini Now/Sports Illustrated scholarship chart is sorted by year, not place on the depth chart. 

Players who have transferred and aren't eligible for the 2020 season are bolded and italicized. 

NUMBERS: 

2020 SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS - 85

SENIORS - 24

JUNIORS - 19

SOPHOMORES - 18

REDSHIRT FRESHMEN - 12

FRESHMEN - 12

QUARTERBACKS
RUNNING BACKS
WIDE RECEIVERS 
TIGHT ENDS
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Brandon Peters - SR. 

Ra'Von Bonner - SR.

Josh Imatorbhebhe - SR. 

Daniel Barker - JR. 

Alex Palczewski - SR. 

Matt Robinson - SOPH.

Mike Epstein - JR. 

Trevon Sidney - SR. 

Luke Ford - SOPH.

Doug Kramer - SR. 

Coran Taylor - SOPH.

Jakari Norwood - SOPH. 

Ricky Smalling - SR.

Griffin Moore - RS-FR. 

Vederian Lowe - SR. 

Isaiah Williams - RS-FR.

Chase Brown - SOPH. 

Desmond Dan - JR.

Jake Cerny - SR. 

Gregory “Deuce” Spann - FR. 

Kenyon Sims - SOPH.

Donny Navarro - JR.

Blake Jeresaty - SR.

Reggie Love - FR. 

Brian Hightower - JR. 

Kendrick Green - JR.

Casey Washington - SOPH.

Verdis Brown - JR.

Carlos Sandy - SOPH. 

Julian Pearl - SOPH.

Dalevon Campbell - SOPH.

Jordyn Slaughter - SOPH. 

Edwin Carter - SOPH. 

Brevyn Jones - RS-Fr.

Kyron Cumby - RS-FR.

Evan Kirts - RS-FR.

James Frenchie - FR.  

Josh Plohr - RS-FR.

Phifer Griffin - FR.

Blaise Sparks - FR.

Kevin Tyler - FR.

The first thing you’ll notice about the offensive scholarship chart above is the five offensive linemen that will depart after this 2020 season including Alex Palczewski, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe, Jake Cerny and Wofford graduate transfer Blake Jeresaty. This list of five players obviously doesn’t include junior Kendrick Green, who has been high on the NFL scouts that have come to Champaign to investigate Lovie Smith’s Illini program. Suddenly you begin to realize how critical the offensive line position group is to the 2021 recruiting class whether in high school prospects like Brody Wisecarver or Josh Kreutz or in the transfer portal.

The quarterback position seems solidly in place after Brandon Peters leaves following the 2020 season. Isaiah Williams, who actually lined up at wide receiver in the 2019 Redbox Bowl, is expected to overtake Matt Robinson for the backup job after experiencing a humbling and injury-plagued initial season at Illinois.

The tailback and wide receiver position needs impact players but the staff has done a solid job of finding depth but the receivers will need a boost after the potential three or four starters leave at once. Tight end was given a significant boost by state of Illinois four-star product Luke Ford coming back home after transferring from Georgia. The combination of Daniel Barker, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the comeback win at Michigan State last season, and Ford could be a dangerous weapon for Peters and the tempo running game that offensive coordinator Rod Smith wants to speed up. 

------------------

DEFENSE

------------------

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
LINEBACKERS
DEFENSIVE BACKS

Owen Carney Jr. - SR. 

Jake Hansen - SR.

Tony Adams - SR. 

Isaiah Gay - SR. 

Milo Eifler - SR. 

Nate Hobbs - SR. 

Marc Mondesir - SR.

Dawson DeGroot - SR. 

Kendall Smith - SR. 

Chinedu Udeogu - SR. (possible injury waiver) 

Derrick Smith - JR.

Nick Walker - SR. 

Calvin Avery - JR. 

Khalan Tolson - JR. 

Jartavius Martin - JR. 

Anthony Shipton - JR.

Lavar Gardner - JR.

James Knight - JR. 

Jamal Woods - JR.

Tarique Barnes - SOPH.

Delano Ware - JR. 

Deon Pate - JR.

Shammond Cooper - RS-FR.

TreSean Smith - JR. 

Ezekiel Holmes - SOPH.

Kerby Joseph - JR.

Keith Randolph Jr. - RS-FR.

Sydney Brown - JR. 

Moses Okpala - RS-FR.

Dylan Wyatt - SOPH.

Seth Coleman - RS-FR.

Joseph Thompson - RS-FR.

Cooper Davis - FR. 

Marquez Beason - RS-FR.

Quinton McCoy - FR.

Tahveon Nicholson - FR. 

Jer'Zhan Newton - FR.

Tre'Von Riggins - FR.

The first thing you should notice about the above Illinois defensive scholarship chart is the need for linebackers in this 2021 recruiting class. With only eight scholarship linebackers expected for the 2020 season and two senior starters on pace to run out of eligibility after this year, Illinois will need to refill that positional room quickly. 

The lack of star pass rusher with experience is an obvious hole that needs to be filled quickly by the Illini’s pair of defensive line coaches Jimmy Lindsey and Al Davis. 

All signs continue to point to the development of Calvin Avery and Keith Randolph Jr. to take the next step and become relied upon individuals in a defensive line that lost Oluwole Betiku, Tymir Oliver, Ayo Shogbonyo and Jamal Milan from last year’s group. 

Cornerback will be questioned following the 2020 season after the Illini lose starters Tony Adams and Nate Hobbs but Marquez Beason and Devon Witherspoon will need to emerge as difference makers on the perimeter of the Illinois defense.

------------------

SPECIAL TEAMS

------------------

PLACEKICKER
PUNTER
LONG SNAPPER

James McCourt - SR. 

Blake Hayes - SR. 

Ethan Tabel - SR. 

Caleb Griffin - SOPH. 

The Illini will lose first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection in punter Blake Hayes and the Illinois staff are currently in the market for a replacement in the 2021 recruiting class.

While the loss of James McCourt, who had three converted field goals of 50 or more yards last season, after this upcoming season will sting, the Illini coaches feel like Danville native Caleb Griffin, who was a four-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball, soccer) and a 2017 first-team all-state football selection as a senior, is just as talented to replace McCourt in his final two seasons of eligibility.

The Illini will need a long snapper replacement for Ethan Tabel after he graduates this season and no fan thinks that position is important until a snap goes directly over a punter’s head or doesn’t get to the holder properly for a field goal attempt. 

Comments

Football

FEATURED
COMMUNITY