Three Fighting Illini football players were arrested for an incident at a campus residence hall, and two weeks later, Lovie Smith removed them from the program.
Illinois released a short statement on Wednesday night to confirm the dismissals of Darta Lee, Zarrian Holcombe, and Howard Watkins. The trio was arrested and booked at Champaign County Jail on May 10, and they face charges of residential burglary and aggravated robbery.
All three players are still behind bars on $150,000 bond, meaning they’d each need to come up with $15,000 bail to gain their releases. Additionally, the three players are currently banned from the leaving the state.
Lee, Holcombe, and Watkins were suspended indefinitely from the team prior to this move.
Lovie Smith hasn’t talked publicly about the case since his initial statement, but it seems safe to say that he had enough information at hand given the response. This was the first instance of off-the-field trouble under this coaching staff, and while the end result may have been inevitable, it’s reassuring that they took the time for due diligence in lieu of quick action.
These dismissals do hurt the Orange and Blue, though. Lee started two games on the offensive line as a true-freshman, and he was expected to compete for a starting role during training camp. Holcombe had primarily been working on special teams, but he figured to be a long-term option at tight end and wide receiver. Watkins arrived on campus as an early-enrollee in January, and his loss is yet another blow to the undermanned trenches.
The Fighting Illini were only looking to take about 14 or so players in their 2018 recruiting class, and that number has now, obviously, expanded by three. The group is off to a slow start in comparison to other teams in the conference, so hopefully they’ll be able to make up some ground by the time August rolls around.