VIDEO: Illini Punter Blake Hayes Talks Day 2 of Preseason Practice
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Following the second day of preseason practices, Illinois senior punter Blake Hayes addressed the media via a Zoom video conference call.
The topics addressed were: Illinois signing fellow Australian Hugh Robertson, his NFL draft stock and the returning members of the Illini special teams units.
The Australian native was recognized as a selection for the 2020 preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given to college football’s best punter.
Hayes is the defending Big Ten Conference Punter of the Year award recipient as he was named by both the coaches and media as the league's first-team all-conference selection at the conclusion of the 2019 season. 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, who is rated the best punting prospect eligible for the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., 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, who is the fourth Illinois player to be nominated for a 2020 preseason watch list, Phil Steele Preseason 2020 All-American third team and All-Big Ten first team selection. He holds team records in punts downed inside the 20-yard-line (32), punts downed inside the 20-yard-line (41.6 percent), punts of 50-plus yards (22), single-season punt yards (3,437) and single-season record low touchbacks (two).