We are continuing our review of the 2017 Illinois Football roster today by taking a look at the backfield. The Illini will have multiple options at running back, which will be a huge benefit as the offense looks to run the ball much more this season.
Tre Nation - Transferred to Austin Peay
Nation was one of Bill Cubit’s commits once Cubit took over the program after Tim Beckman’s firing. He appeared in the first three games of 2016, but did not make an appearance for the rest of the season.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn - Transfer to Vandy
After a freshman campaign in which he rushed for 723 yards, Vaughn was unable to find similar success in his second season for the Illini. He began the season as the starting RB, and he even had a nice game against North Carolina, including a 65-yard touchdown. Vaughn lost his job to Kendrick Foster, and he eventually fell further down the rotation behind Reggie Corbin.
Vaughn now returns back to his hometown of Nashville to play for Vanderbilt. He will sit out this season and have two years of eligibility remaining, starting in 2018.
Reggie Corbin - #2 SO, 5’ 10”, 190 lbs
Corbin Receiving Stats
Corbin had a good freshman campaign for Illinois as a change-of-pace back. He averaged over six yards per carry while picking up over 500 yards on the season. Corbin will get many opportunities to improve upon last season while serving as the second option in what is looking to be a two-headed monster at RB for Illinois in 2017.
Kendrick Foster - #22 SR, 5’ 9” 200 lbs
Foster Rushing Stats
Foster Receiving Stats
Kendrick Foster had a breakout junior season for the Illini in 2016, and he was the best player on an ineffective offense. Foster averaged a healthy 5.7 yards per carry and showed good explosion to go along with some power.
Foster averaged only a little over 10 carries a game last season, and if Illinois does in fact transition to a more power-run based offense, that number should dramatically increase.
Foster was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award which is given each year to the nation’s top running back. Foster is also the main kickoff returner for Illinois. He may not have a household name in college football, but Kendrick Foster may already be one of the better running backs in the Big Ten. He will have the chance to prove it this fall.
Dre Brown - #27 SO, 5’ 11”, 215 lbs
Brown has missed the first two years of his Illini career due to ACL tears — one in each knee. He is a former four-star recruit with a lot of talent, but it will be interesting to see how he can come back from two ACL surgeries in two years. Illini nation will be rooting for him to succeed, and, while he will be behind Reggie Corbin and Kendrick Foster on the depth chart, he will get his share of chances in 2017.
Christian Bobak - #29 R-FR, 6’ 0”, 200 lbs
A walk-on who redshirted in 2016.
Austin Roberts - #36 JR, 6’ 2”, 245 lbs
Roberts was injured after playing in three games in 2016, registering two receptions for five yards on the year. He is a former linebacker, and he will likely be the first option on plays when Illinois needs a lead blocker.
Brandon Jones - #88 R-FR, 6’ 5” 240 lbs
Jones moved to RB from defensive line after redshirting his freshman year. He is listed as a running back on the official roster, but it is likely he will be used more as a TE or FB given his size and his experience playing tight end in high school.
Ra’Von Bonner - #21 FR, 5’ 11”, 220 lbs, Cincinnati, Ohio
Bonner rushed for 80 touchdowns in high school, and he already has great size for a true freshman. He may find some playing time, but with Foster, Corbin, and Brown at the top of the rotation, he may end up taking a redshirt.
Mike Epstein - #26 FR, 6’ 0”, 190 lbs, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Epstein comes from one of the best high school football programs in Florida at St. Thomas Aquinas, who won the state title in 2016. The three-star RB had other Big Ten offers from Michigan, Indiana, and Rutgers, but he chose to commit to the Illini under Tim Beckman and stayed on board through two coaching changes. Again, a red shirt is likely due to the competition at the position.
Running back is one of the few positions where Illinois has some experienced depth. Kendrick Foster could be in line to benefit most for an offense more focused on running the football in 2017, but he will have help from Corbin and Brown. This is a posistion of strength for the Illini — and one of the reasons to be cautiously optimistic about an improved offense — and it will be exciting to see what this group can accomplish this season.