But first, I'll just make this comment: No disrespect to Arrelious Benn, who's a standout player and a standup guy who made some big contributions. If the team wants to honor a player who's going to return in 2009 for leadership purposes, he's a good choice.
But the MVP of this team, plain and simple, was Brit Miller. If Illinois had won a few more games by scoring more points and making fewer turnovers--in other words, with the exact same defense--Miller could have been in the discussion for Big Ten defensive player of the year. It's hard to imagine that defense without Miller, who finished fifth in the nation, and first in the Big Ten, in tackles. He not only made plays, but he was the defensive quarterback, a special-teams stalwart--and he was a terrific all-around leader and ambassador for Illinois football.
To reiterate, Rejus Benn is a terrific athlete, and a classy kid who's going to play football on Sundays for a long time--and I'm looking forward to watching his continued development in Champaign before he moves on.
But just as sure as Ron Santo deserves to be in the Hall of Fame--and shame on you, Hall of Fame voters--Brit Miller was the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 Illinois football team.
Illini Honor 17 Seniors at Annual Banquet
Benn Scores Most Valuable Player Award
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini football team, families and friends
gathered to honor 17 seniors and the season's award winners at the 107th annual
football banquet sponsored for the 89th straight year by the Rotary Club,
Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The following are the Illini award winners from the 2008 Illinois Football
Most Valuable Player: Arrelious Benn, wide receiver
Benn finished the season with 1,055 receiving yards, the first 1,000-yard
receiving year for an Illini since 2002. It was also the fifth-best performance
for the Illini in a season. During the year, he put together four consecutive
100-yard games, the first time for an Illini. He finished the year with 67
catches, one in every game and five touchdowns.
Most Improved Player: Michael Hoomanawanui
In his first two years combined, Hoomanawanui had seven catches. Last year alone
he hauled in 25. He was integral in the Illinois passing game ranking No. 1 in
the Big Ten. He scored two touchdowns and had 312 yards.
Rookie of the Year: Jason Ford, running back & Corey Liuget, defensive tackle
Ford and Liuget share the award this season. Both athletes came to Illinois and
made an immediate impact as true freshmen. Ford started two games at running
back, scoring a team-high eight touchdowns. He rushed for 172 yards against
Indiana, which was the second-most by a freshman in school history. Liuget did
what many could not. He started as a true-freshman on the defensive line. He
logged 26 tackles, five for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also ranked in the Big Ten's
top 10 with two recovered fumbles.
Outstanding Offensive Back: Juice Williams, quarterback
Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Jon Asamoah, offensive guard
Outstanding Defensive Lineman: Derek Walker, defensive end
Outstanding Linebacker: Brit Miller
Outstanding Defensive Back: Dere Hicks, cornerback
Outstanding Special Teams Award: Nate Bussey, defensive back; Matt Eller,
I BELIEVE Key Contributors Award: Eric Block, offensive line; Will Davis,
Rodney Pittman, linebacker; Will Judson, wide receiver
Wright Commitment to Excellence Award: David Lindquist, defensive line
Lindquist came to Illinois as a walk-on. In two years he had earned a
scholarship and in three was a starter on the defensive line. In four years, he
totaled 132 tackles, 20.5 for loss and 10.5 quarterback sacks. The Wright
Commitment to Excellence Award is presented to the individual who has dedicated
themselves to academic excellence despite obstacles faced during his collegiate
Bruce Capel Award: Xavier Fulton, offensive line
Fulton overcame great obstacles to be a two-time All-Big Ten offensive lineman.
He blew his knee out as a true-sophomore as a defensive lineman and when he
returned to health moved to the offensive side of the ball. Despite no
experience at the position, he started every game in two years even with a
shoulder injury making that feat more difficult. The Bruce Capel Award is given
to the Illini player who displays the most courage, dedication and
accomplishment throughout the season.
Monsignor E. Duncan Award: Kameno Bell
The Monsignor Edward J. Duncan Award, the Illini team chaplain since 1943, was
initiated in 1994 in recognition of the more than 60 years of service the
director of the Newman Foundation has provided the football team and Division of
Intercollegiate Athletics. The award is presented annually to the University of
Illinois football letterman, which has displayed exemplary integrity and
dedication to this community/state/country/church through public service and
citizenship. This year's recipient is Kameno Bell. Bell was a three-year
letterwinner at Illinois and the 1991 MVP. His two goals were to come to
Illinois as a walk on and contribune and become a physician. He did both. Bell
is currently a on the clinical staff at the Hackensack Medical University, while
also serving as the associate team physician for the New York Giants.
Scholar-Athlete Award: Ryan McDonald, offensive lineman (3.83 GPA in aerospace
Rotary Service Beyond Self Award: Sam Carson, linebacker
Scout Team Players of the Year: Jarred Fayson, wide receiver (offense); Whitney
Mercilus, defensive line (defense)
2008 Team Captains: Brit Miller, linebacker; David Lindquist, defensive line;
Juice Williams, quarterback; Arrelious Benn, wide receiver.