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Jake Hansen returning to Illinois for 2021 season

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NCAA Football: Illinois at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of the pillars of Illinois’ defense over the past four years is coming back under Bret Bielema.

Linebacker Jake Hansen announced Monday morning that he had been granted a waiver to return to Champaign, despite declaring for the NFL Draft in December.

“The 2020 football season wasn’t exactly how I imagined my time at Illinois to end,” Hansen says in the video. “After extensive talks with Coach Bielema and the University of Illinois staff, I have decided that I have unfinished business in the Orange and Blue. I am excited to get back up to Champaign and get to work with my teammates and my new coaches. Go Illini!”

Hansen, a fifth-year senior, had the option to come back under new head coach Bret Bielema due to the pandemic eligibility rule.

“I am excited for Jake to come back to the Fighting Illini family,” Bielema said in a statement. “During my conversations with Jake, it was easy to see how passionate he is about the game of football, his teammates and the University of Illinois. We’ve got an outstanding group of seniors that have chosen to come back to Illinois, and I am appreciative of Josh Whitman and our staff’s efforts to make sure these young men have the opportunity to wear the Orange and Blue again in 2021.”

Under Lovie Smith, Hansen epitomized Lovie Ball, forcing 10 fumbles (third-most in program history) and leading the nation in forced fumbles in 2019. He also had 14 takeaways over the last two seasons, the most of any player in the nation.

Hansen was named to watch lists for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards over the past two years at Illinois. The Florida native was also an All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2019 and All-Big Ten second team (Media) and third team (Coaches) in 2020.

Illinois currently sits at 21 “super seniors” who are cashing in on their extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, the highest total in the country.