Illini LB Dele Harding Named First-Team All-Big Ten By Media

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- For the first time in nine years, an Illinois linebacker has been named to a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection. 

Senior co-captain Dele Harding was voted first-team by the media and third-team by the league’s coaches on Tuesday evening. 

Harding led the Illini with 147 tackles (10th-most in program history), 13.0 tackles for loss and three interceptions. The middle linebacker in Lovie Smith's defensive scheme also had, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns. The 230-pound linebacker led the conference in tackles per game (12.3), which was second among all Football Bowl Subdivision players (behind just California's Evan Weaver). 

Purdue running back King Doerue (22) is stopped inside their own 1 yard line by Illinois linebacker Dele Harding (9) during the fourth quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Purdue running back King Doerue (22) is stopped inside their own 1-yard line by Illinois linebacker Dele Harding (9) during the fourth quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium.Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Harding had 13 tackles per game in Big Ten Conference play including the two touchdowns on interception returns against Minnesota and Rutgers. 

The last time an Illini linebacker was named a first-team All-Big Ten selection was Martez Wilson in 2010. In a year where the Dick Butkus statue was unveiled, Illinois has a consistent tradition of producing quality linebackers in college football. Illinois had four linebackers (Kevin Hardy, Dana Howard, Simeon Rice and John Holecek) earn All-Big Ten honors in consecutive years of 1993-94. 

Since the Big Ten organized announced the all-conference teams in 1990, Illinois has produced 13 first-team linebacker selections. 

Harding and Blake Hayes, the Illini junior punter, were the only two defensive and/or special teams players named to the All-Big Ten Conference first-team lists. Hayes took home the Big Ten Conference Punter of the Year 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.

Safety Sydney Brown, DE Oluwole Betiku Jr., and kick returner Dre Brown were all named third-team honorees, while four more defensive standouts garnered honorable mention status – Jake Hansen (coaches & media), Stanley Green (media), Nate Hobbs (media) and Jamal Milan (media).

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