Illini Still Waiting On A Few Late Arrivals To Preseason Football Practice

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Not everybody on the Illinois football roster for the 2020 season has arrived to campus for preseason practice yet.

Illini head coach Lovie Smith confirmed Friday, which was the second day of preseason camp, that some of the players listed on the roster have yet to arrive on the Champaign-Urbana campus but are expected to report soon.

One of those players yet to practice in an Illinois jersey is defensive tackle transfer Roderick Perry. The 300-pound defensive tackle from South Carolina State, who was already drawing attention from NFL scouts, announced last week he’ll be playing as a graduate transfer in Smith’s Illini defense. Illinois officials have confirmed to Illini Now/Sports Illustrated that Perry was expected to arrive on campus Friday evening but the timetable is still to be determined when the school’s coronavirus protocol will allow him to be on the practice fields with the rest of the team. Illinois football spokesperson Kent Brown confirmed to Illini Now/SI that Perry will be immediately tested upon arrival to campus and immediately be isolated for precautionary reasons for several days while being continually tested during that quarantine period. If all of Perry's COVID-19 tests are negative, he'll be approved for active practice duty. 

In accordance with NCAA rules, once he arrives for preseason camp, Perry will have to participate in two practices without any contact (where he’s just in a helmet and shorts) before he’ll be able to engage in a full pads practice.

Another player still absent from practice but on the official roster is 27-year-old Australian punter Hugh Robertson but he’s expected to redshirt behind senior Blake Hayes, the defending Big Ten Punter of the Year selection.

Perry had 34 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble last season for a South Carolina State team which finished 8-3 overall and captured the school’s 17th league crown and seventh MEAC championship last season.

Roderick Perry (91), shown in this photo of a 2019 game against UCF, has yet to arrive for preseason practices with Illinois after being admitted into school as a graduate student this week. Perry is expected to compete for playing time at the open defensive tackle spot of Lovie Smith's 4-3 defense. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Perry had to execute a quick transfer search to a Football Bowl Subdivision program ever since the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference suspended all fall sports on July 16 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The native of Raleigh, N.C. is expected to compete for a starting role and significant playing time on a defensive line that doesn’t return much experience, especially at the defensive tackle position where the Illini lost both of its starters from a season ago.

“Rod is not on campus yet,” Smith said Friday. “I know about what we liked about him as far as when we were recruiting him, we lost a lot of inside players that had played a lot of football for us. (We felt fortunate) to have a chance to get a player of his caliber this late in the game. He plays hard.”

Smith said he and his staff looked at tape on Perry as far back as his 2016 Class 4A state wrestling tournament win at Cary High School in the 285-pound category.

“YouTube his state championship match where with a few seconds left, he has to pin his guy to win the heavyweight wrestling championship in North Carolina and he does it,” Smith said. “He’s going to bring a lot of toughness to our team and when you’re a senior and you’ve had the type of success he’s had, you want to finish it up the right way.”

Currently Illinois is trying to determine a depth chart at the interior defensive line positions among California graduate transfer Chinedu Udeogu, junior college transfer Anthony Shipton, junior Calvin Avery and junior Deon Pate, all of which have a new position coach in the form of Al Davis.

“When you bring in some graduate transfers in like Chinedu and Rod, that says something but we also have a freshman class of about four defensive lineman that we choose from also,” Smith said. “I don’t like talking about freshmen before they even get into pads but we have some depth on the defensive line...we have some talented players that just need to play. Now their number has been called. It’s time for them to step up and they will.”