Illinois Football’s staff spoke very highly of sophomore linebacker Jake Hansen throughout the offseason, but his historic performance in Saturday’s season-opening win over Kent State even blew those words out of the water.
After recording eight tackles in 12 games as a freshman in 2016, Hansen missed all of last season with an injury during training camp. In his first game back, he went off, despite admitting to being a little nervous.
“There were a lot of nerves, but at the end of I just had to tell myself it’s just football,” Hansen said.
And the football came easy to him.
Hansen recorded 15 tackles, including 10 solo, and had 6 tackles for loss, which tied a single game program record (Jeff Weisse vs. MTSU in 1998).
“We’ve been waiting for Jake to come out for a long period of time,” said Illinois head coach Lovie Smith. “He’s been out for a long time, and he played outstanding ball. Him finishing it with that interception would’ve made it really one of those outstanding games.”
Amazingly, Hansen’s 6 TFLs exceeded any Illini player’s total from all of last season when James Crawford — now a member of the Packers’ 53-man roster —had 5.5.
“[Hansen] fits the profile of what we’re looking for in a linebacker,” Smith said. “The statistics stand out, but we expected him to play well.”
For his efforts, Hansen received Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, sharing the weekly award with Maryland DB Antoine Brooks Jr.
“It’s exciting,” Hansen said. “I just feel blessed for sure.”
A native of Tarpon Springs, Florida, Hansen is the Illini’s first Defensive Player of the Week since Tre Watson in 2016.
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