Part of the end of every season are the questions about roster turnover from one year to the next.
At the end of this COVID-19 affected season, those questions are more so put in center stage.
Typically, seniors graduate and either move on to the NFL or their own lives — and other eligible players could potentially enter the NFL draft as well. Not to mention, the end of the season generally also means various players enter the transfer portal.
That, of course, doesn’t include the seniors who are eligible to return for an additional season because playing in this 2020 season did not count toward eligibility for NCAA players.
All of that factored in with Illinois undergoing a coaching change, from Lovie Smith to Bret Bielema raises even more eyebrows about the futures of many players on this Illini roster.
After Saturday’s game against Penn State, senior linebacker Jake Hansen said he will make his decision to return to Illinois or go to the NFL draft quickly, but he wanted to talk to his potential new head coach first.
Expect those decisions and announcements to come in the coming weeks, but two key contributors over the last few seasons have already made their decisions.
Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe has declared for the NFL draft per his twitter account.
Thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible. #NFLDraft2021 pic.twitter.com/lXlVHCG2hW— Josh Imatorbhebhe (@JoshBhebhe) December 17, 2020
Imatorbhebhe has spent the last two seasons with Illinois as a graduate transfer from USC. The Georgia native caught 55 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns in his Illini career.
On the flip side of Imatorbhebhe’s announcement, offensive lineman Alex Palczewski appears to have announced that he will return to Illinois for the 2021 season.
Palczewski has served as a captain and leader over the last few years and has ranked as a top offensive lineman in the Big Ten before suffering a season-ending leg injury that led to surgery.
Following his surgery, he made this announcement on his twitter:
Successful ACL surgery ✅— Alex Palczewski (@PalczewskiAlex) December 8, 2020
I’ll be back and better than ever, see you in Ireland.
Heal now and shine later.#OLPride pic.twitter.com/YVR6iqjESb
As for the rest of the Illini, there are numerous other players who have the opportunity to return for Bret Bielema’s first season as the head coach of Illinois.
Some of those players include Milo Eifler, Trevon Sidney, Tony Adams, Nate Hobbs, Desmond Dan Jr., Blake Hayes, James McCourt, Kendall Smith, Brandon Peters, Christian Bobak, Tailon Leitzsey, Hansen, Michael Marchese, Marc Mondesir, Blake Jeresaty, Ethan Tabel, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe, Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Jamal Woods, Isaiah Gay, Roderick Perry II and Owen Carney Jr.
New head coach Bret Bielema’s message to those players who could return:
“Give me an opportunity.”