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Pulse of the Illini Nation: Most Underrated Illinois Football Players

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Illinois has had no shortage of under-the-radar heroes.

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

The all-time legends like Grange, Butkus and Halas define Illinois Football and are immediately recognizable to people around the country. These individuals lend prestige and credibility to the Illinois football program, and allow us to fondly remember what our program once was, while envisioning what it can be again.

That said, none of the greats could do it all on their own. They all had a supporting cast, and their accomplishments were built upon those players who came before them. The Illini stars don’t shine as bright without the underrated players who might not be household names.

TCR asked, and Illini Nation delivered:

One of the first comments brought up the name that immediately came to my mind as well.

Nate guided the Illini through some tumultuous seasons, but the stability and consistency that he brought to the quarterback position from 2010-13 deserves much more recognition. Scheelhaase holds the all-time records at Illinois for most consecutive completions (15), total offensive yardage (10,634 - 9th all-time Big Ten), starts as a quarterback (48), and single season rushing yards as a QB (868 - 2010), among others.

Other names mentioned go a little further back, and one who came up a couple of times was Rocky Harvey.

Harvey played from 1998-2001, and racked up 2,669 yards rushing along with 566 yards receiving on his career, but he’s a player that many younger fans might not know about.

Detlef came through with Eugene Wilson, one of Harvey’s teammates, who was the shut down defensive back for the Illini team that won the Big Ten and made it to the Sugar Bowl in 2001.

Wilson had 11 interceptions on his career, including 6 alone in 2001. He also had a pair of punt return touchdowns and 1,167 total return yards.

Pierre Thomas was mentioned a few times as well, and he certainly deserves praise for his time in Orange and Blue as well as his long NFL career.

Thomas rushed for 2,545 yards and scored 23 touchdowns during his college career from 2003-2006. On special teams, he added 1,495 kick return yards and another touchdown. His NFL career stretched from 2007 to 2015, almost he spent almost the entire time with the New Orleans Saints. He racked up an impressive 8,470 all purpose yards and 40 touchdowns in his pro career.

A few other names also certainly deserve mention:

Offensive linemen particularly don’t get the recognition they deserve, and the line that most recently brought us to the Rose Bowl is no exception.

This group included Jon Asamoah, Martin O’Donnell, Akim Millington, Ryan McDonald, and Eric Block. Asamoah was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and later played for the Atlanta Falcons.

Illinois has a proud tradition and a host of players who gave their all in Champaign. These and others deserve all the praise we can offer for being a part of the program we cherish.

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