Illini's Blake Hayes Named Big Ten Punter of the Year

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- For the first time in program history, Illinois has a conference punter of the year. 

Blake Hayes, the Illini junior punter, took home the Big Ten Conference award announced Tuesday on Big Ten Network and was also named by both the coaches and media as the league's first-team all-conference selection.

Hayes had one of the best punting seasons in Illinois history as his 44.8 yards per punt average this season is second all-time in Illini history (45.4 by Steve Weatherford in 2004) and the Australian native was second in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation in punting average. 

Hayes had 28 punts inside the 20-yard-line, most in a season in Illini history, and only two touchbacks on the season, tied for the fewest in a season in Illini history. The former Australian Rules Rugby player had 20 punts of 50 yards or more, which tied for most in a season in Illini history and 13 punts inside the 10-yard-line, including six downed on the 1-yard-line or 2-yard line.

Hayes becomes the second Illini to win one of the 11 Big Ten position awards, which were created in 2011 to coincide with the first Big Ten Championship game. Last season, kicker Chase McLaughlin took home conference's Kicker of the Year honors. McLaughlin was the first Illini to win a major Big Ten award since 2007 when Rashard Mendenhall (Offensive Player of the Year), Arrelious Benn (Freshman of the Year) and Ron Zook (Coach of the Year) all took home major conference honors. 

Hayes is first Illini punter to earn First-Team All-Big Ten honors since Anthony Santella was a first-team honoree by the coaches in 2010.