Saturday’s a big day.
Along with the obvious bowl implications that are to come with the game on the field against Northwestern, it’s also Senior Day for the Illini, the final chance for many of the Illini’s seniors to wear the orange and blue at Memorial Stadium.
For some, it’ll be one last opportunity to celebrate a long, successful college football career in front of an Illini crowd. For others, the future may still be in question.
Nowadays, being honored on Senior Day doesn’t necessarily mean a player’s college football career is coming to an end. With the free COVID year back in 2020 that didn’t count towards eligibility, a handful of “seniors” are still able to return to school for another season.
Let’s take a look at which Illini seniors are truly taking their final snaps and which may not be done just yet.
Note: Some players mentioned below are technically listed as juniors on the official team roster but will likely partake in Senior Day ceremonies as seniors because the wackiness of the 2020 COVID season has thrown everything off.
Gone For Sure
Newton confirmed the obvious earlier this week: he’ll be foregoing his final year of eligibility and declaring for the 2024 NFL Draft. He’ll go down as one of the all-time greats in Illini program history, sure to be a consensus All-American and first round draft pick this fall.
Soak up the last 60 minutes of dominance of Johnny’s career because he also indicated he’ll elect to sit out a potential bowl game.
Like his Law Firm partner, Randolph said Tuesday that this will be his final season at Illinois. He’ll forego his extra year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Keith has put together a heck of a career, soon to be a two-time All-Big Ten player and a five-year contributor on the Illini defensive line.
Adams is nearing the end of his college career, having played two seasons and started every game for the Illini after joining the program from the JUCO ranks.
He recently accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl with both Newton and Randolph, so he’ll have a good chance to hear his name called in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Pearl is set to wrap up his six-year Illini career. He’s been one of the most consistent pieces of the offensive line since stepping into a starting role at both tackle spots back in 2020 and will also have a chance to play at the next level.
Unfortunately, John Paddock’s magic will be confined to 2023. Paddock played five years at Ball State, making this his sixth and final year of eligibility.
He’ll get the start on Senior Day against the Wildcats, looking to help propel Illinois to a bowl game and extend his career a little longer.
Washington’s long Illini career will come to an end after this season. He’s started in parts of five seasons for Illinois, contributing more than 100 receiving yards in all five years. This season has been by far his best, as he’s currently sitting at 452 yards and hauled in his first career touchdown against Indiana.
Barnes will depart the linebacker room after this season having served as a two-time team captain and three-year starter. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention on the Illini’s loaded 2022 defense.
Bush chose to play his final year of eligibility at Illinois after spending his freshman season at Western Kentucky and then three seasons at Southern Illinois.
He has been an important part of the Illini secondary playing heavy snaps, starting four games and recording 40 tackles.
Like Bush, Harper transferred to Illinois with just one season of eligibility remaining. The Louisville transfer has been a rotational piece in the secondary for the Illini while starting six games and coming up with an interception against FAU.
The Gibson City product is in his fifth and final season at Illinois. He’s been a rotational player on the defensive line helping spell the Law Firm, appearing in 55 total games during his time in Champaign.
Slaughter is finishing his sixth and final season in Champaign.
He has been a “sixth man” of sorts on the Illini offensive line the last two seasons, mixing in a few starts at left guard.
Griffin’s long college football journey will reach its end after this season. He’s spent six seasons at Illinois, having to wait four years to finally nab the starting kicker job.
This year, he’s kicked two game-winning field goals for the Illini, one against Toledo and another against Maryland.
Can Come Back
That’s right, One has another year if he wants it. Williams said he was still undecided on his future earlier this week. The decision of this guy, who currently leads the Big Ten in receptions with 76 and is second in yards with 998, may be the biggest storyline to monitor during the Illini offseason.
Coleman’s decision will be another key for the Illini this offseason, as he has one year of eligibility remaining. He’s really broken out the last two seasons, having been named an All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2022 and now is on his way to a true all-conference selection this year, currently sitting fourth in the Big Ten with six sacks.
This will be another one to monitor. Love is having the best season of his career, rushing for 461 yards and four touchdowns (5 YPC) in just seven games. While the Illini have a lot of depth in their running back room, getting Love back for one more season would be a big boost.
While Nicholson has only been on the field for three seasons at Illinois, he will be honored during Saturday’s Senior Day ceremonies. He’s started 21 games during the last two seasons and would provide some much-needed experience to what should be another fairly young Illini secondary in 2024 if he returns for another year.
The Illini’s starting tight end can return for another season if he chooses. A team captain in 2023, Reiman has 188 yards and three touchdowns this season and has always graded out well as a blocker in Barry Lunney’s run-heavy offense.
Daxon, a transfer from Ohio, has started every game this season for the Illini at nose tackle, recording 23 tackles. He can elect to return for one more season of college football and help bridge the gap in 2024 for a defensive line set to lose its top two players.
Holmes was a starter in Week 0 of the 2022 season before being forced to miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. This year, he’s appeared in eight games and can provide depth at outside linebacker if he chooses to return.
Moore has seen an increased role in the offense this year, tallying 148 yards and a touchdown after being no more than a backup his first four seasons at Illinois. The Bloomington native has a sixth year to play if he wants to use it.