In an offseason that was filled with change due to a coaching switch, one area Illini fans can look for continuity is the Special Teams unit.
With the additional year of eligibility granted to seniors due to COVID-19, both Blake Hayes and James McCourt had the ability to return to the Illini for a ‘Super Senior’ season. Joining them will be Special Teams Coordinator Ben Miller from Air Force.
Blake Hayes, P
Hayes joined the Illini directly from Australia back in 2017 and has been a starter since day one. He has racked up a quite a few accolades while on our team, most notably being named both the Big Ten Punter of the Year and First Team All-Big Ten for the 2019 season. Hayes also became the the Illini’s career leader in punting yardage and number of punts last year.
It’s also an added bonus to have a punter with moves like this:
Blake Hayes (@HayesBla1) had so much field ahead of him on this fake punt that it looked like he was about to reconsider. @IlliniFootball delivers one of the most unique fakes you'll ever see #ForTheBrand: pic.twitter.com/bMv8OWtmN9— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 21, 2020
The field position game is a vital aspect of Big Ten football and we should always have an advantage in that regard with Blake Hayes on our team this season.
James McCourt, K
The second part of the ‘lads,’ McCourt joined the Illini from Florida back in 2016 and became the starting kicker as a junior in 2019. He made some clutch kicks throughout that year and was an integral part of guiding Illinois to a bowl game. McCourt’s first season as a starter will always be remembered for his 39-yard field goal that sealed the upset of No. 6 Wisconsin. He continued his strong play into last season and was rewarded with an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honor.
McCourt’s overall experience and especially his familiarity with the Champaign weather conditions will definitely help the Illini close out games.
Ben Miller, Special Teams Coordinator
Heading the special teams unit will be Ben Miller who joins the Illini from the Air Force Academy where he was an assistant and Special Teams Coordinator for the last 9 years. Miller’s special teams units at Air Force consistently ranked in the top half of the NCAA during his tenure and were ranked higher than the Illini 6 out of his 9 seasons.
In Bret Bielema’s first year, he should be able to lean on Hayes and McCourt and not have to worry about frustrating errors that sometimes plague less experienced special teams units.