Chicago Sun-Times
With Sun-Times sports reporter Herb Gould

December 2012 Archives

            Akeem Spence will forego his last year of eligibility at Illinois to enter the NFL draft, the junior defensive tackle announced Friday.

            The Fort Walton Beach, Fla., native started every game the last three years after redshirting in 2009. He was third in tackles (72) and tied for second in tackles-for-loss (7) this fall, and was All-Big Ten honorable mention. That included 11 tackles, seven solos and two TFLs, all career highs, in his final Illinois appearance, at Northwestern.

         The 6-1, 305-pound Spence, who will graduate on Saturday with a degree in communications, has been projected as a third- to fourth-round prospect by some online scouting services.

         ``I would like to thank the University of Illinois for giving me an opportunity to become a great student-athlete,'' Spence said in a statement. ``The current and past coaching staffs have been very supportive. My family and I look forward to the journey ahead.''

            Spence is the eighth Illinois player in the last six years to enter the draft with eligibility remaining. The previous seven all were taken in the first three rounds, including four first-rounders, tied with Florida and USC for the second-most first-round picks. Only Alabama (9) has had more. Spence is the third defensive linemen to leave Illinois early in as many years. He follows Corey Liuget (2010) and Whitney Mercilus (2011), who both were first-round picks. 

            ``We wish Akeem nothing but the best,'' Illini coach Tim Beckman said. ``He's worked very hard on the field and in the classroom to put himself in this position.''











            Intent on reviving an lllinois football program that went 2-10 in his first season, coach Tim Beckman announced the signing of five junior-college players on Wednesday.

            One of the recruits, 290-pound defensive tackle Abe Cajuste, could come in handy. Junior Akeem Spence is expected to announce he will forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft this week.

            Linebacker Jonathan Brown, who also has a bright pro future, has decided to return for his senior season after struggling through an injury-filled 2012 campaign.

            Cajuste, from Miami, Fla., by way of Victor Valley (Calif.) College, ``gives us a big body on the defensive line,'' Beckman said. ``He will help add depth with the departure of several key seniors from the line.''

            Illinois will lose 7-1/2 starters on defense, including all but one co-starter, Tim Kynard, on the defensive line. It could return nine starters on offense, but is losing its two best linemen, Graham Pocic and Hugh Thornton.

            Beckman is expected to bring in approximately 28 players, including JuCos and high-school signees during this recruiting season.

            Two of the junior-college signees are defensive backs from California: safety Zane Petty, from American River College, and star (hybrid safety/linebacker) Eric Finney, from College of the Canyons.

            Illinois has not gone the junior-college route often since Mike White ran a successful California junior-college pipeline in the '80s. Since then, two of Illinois' most prominent JuCos have been defensive backs--Trulon Henry, who completed his career a year ago, and Kelvin Hayden, who played in Champaign in 2003-04 and is now with the Bears.

            The other two signees are offensive players: wide receiver Martize Barr, from Washington, D.C., by way of New Mexico and Iowa Western C.C.; and lineman Dallas Hinkhouse, also from Iowa Western.

            Beckman opted to postpone a press briefing until next month, when up to five high-school recruits are expected to enroll at Illinois to participate in spring practice. The new coach enthusiastically welcomed the junior-college signees in a statement, though.

            ``The most exciting part is that they fill immediate needs for us,'' Beckman said. ``They all play a different position of need and are spread across all areas of the team. The fact that we were able to go throughout the country and sell Illinois football to these young men and their families shows the work ethic and commitment from our staff.''


         Northern Illinois will play Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

         NIU qualified for an automatic BCS-bowl berth by finishing in the top 16 of the BCS standings. They are the first Mid-American Conference school to receive a BCS berth.

         The Huskies (12-1) will be a big underdog vs. the Seminoles, but should attract national attention as a small school that will have a rare opportunity to play on a big stage. NIU's only loss was to Iowa 18-17 at Soldier Field.

         Also, the Big Ten seven bowl-bound teams now have confirmed their destinations.

         Stanford is confirmed as Wisconsin's Rose Bowl opponent in a battle of legue champions. Georgia will play Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl in a matchup of league championship-game losers. Northwestern will face Mississippi State. 



Rose: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

Capital One: Nebraska vs. Georgia

Outback: Michigan vs. South Carolina

Gator: Northwestern vs. Mississippi State

Buffalo Wild Wings: Michigan State vs. TCU

Meineke Car Care: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech

Heart of Dallas: Purdue vs. Oklahoma State




BCS: Notre Dame vs. Alabama

Rose: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Oregon

Sugar: Florida vs. Louisville

Orange: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State





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