Most athletes are a bore to follow on Twitter. Their feeds usually consist of motivational quotes, inside jokes with other teammates on Twitter, and banal comments about a recently-completed game. Twins reliever Glen Perkins is not among them. @AlexBerg22 asked Perkins if he could provide any assistance since Berg had been “screwed over” ordering tickets…
If you were bothered by the lack of a costumed character roaming the sidelines at Illinois football and basketball games, your troubles are over.
University of Illinois chancellor Barbara J. Wilson announced during a campus meeting Monday that the school is beginning the process of choosing a new mascot, according to a report from the Champaign News-Gazette's Julie Wurth.
Mind you, this isn't signalling the return of Chief Illiniwek, who wasn't a masoct anyway, the university classifying the Chief as a symbol. No, this is something new, and the result would figure to be more in the vein of the cartoonish figures celebrating touchdowns and crowd surfing at football and basketball games.
Wilson endorsed the recommendation from an Illinois Student Senate ad hoc committee that recently urged the campus to move forward with a mascot. She met with the group on Friday.
She plans to form a committee of 10 to 12 people that will draw up a process and a timeline. It will include representatives from all the stakeholders involved — students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
Wilson, who had already signaled her support for the student effort, said last week that any new mascot would embody the values and traditions of the campus.
Chief Illiniwek was retired in 2007 amid concerns that the costumed performer was offensive to Native Americans. The Illinois marching band still plays the music the Chief used to perform to, and people wearing the costume have appeared in the stands during games while the music played. All that, of course, is unofficial, and while many Illini alumi and fans continue to hope the university will bring back Chief Illiniwek, they will have to settle for whatever this new mascot ends up being.
Certainly, Wilson seems aware that this is a sensitive subject for many.
UI's Wilson on mascot: "It's not going to be easy going forward ... there are lots of opinions on this." #illini— Julie Wurth (@jawurth) May 2, 2016
Illinois is currently one of just three Big Ten schools without a costumed mascot, Indiana and Michigan being the others. Iowa boasts Herky Hawkeye, Maryland has Testudo, Michigan State has Sparty, Minnesota has Goldy Gopher, Nebraska has Herbie Husker (and Li'l Red), Northwestern has Willie Wildcat, Ohio State has Brutus Buckeye, Penn State has the Nittany Lion, Purdue has Purdue Pete, Rutgers has the Scarlet Knight and Wisconsin has Bucky Badger.
Illinois saw three players selected in this past weekend's NFL Draft, and after the festivities were over, three more signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
Running back Josh Ferguson signed with the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver Geronimo Allison signed with the Green Bay Packers, and cornerback/return man V'Angelo Bentley signed with the New England Patriots.
Ferguson, a Naperville native and a Joliet Catholic product, had a strong career in Champaign. He was hampered by injuries last season, playing in just nine games, and finished second on the team with 708 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 280 receiving yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns.
Ferguson ranks second in program history in all-purpose yardage with 4,474 yards, sixth in rushing with 2,586 yards and third in receptions with 168 catches. He owns the program records for receiving yards by a running back (1,507) and receptions by a running back (168).
Allison joined the Illini two offseasons ago, transferring in from junior college. He started 12 of the team's 13 games during the 2014 season, ranking second on the team with 598 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Last season, Allison played in all 12 games, catching a team-high 56 passes for a team-high 882 yards and three touchdowns.
Bentley carved out his own corner of the program record book, becoming the only Illinois player ever to score touchdowns via a kick return, punt return, interception return and fumble return. He's the program leader in kick-return yardage with 1,860 yards, and he ranks fourth all-time in punt-return yardage with 550 yards. Last season, Bentley ranked fifth on the Illini defense with 54 tackles.
These three join the trio of Illini who were drafted over the weekend. Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illinois product drafted since 2013 when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 44 pick in the second round. Offensive lineman Ted Karras was picked at No. 221 by the Patriots, and safety Clayton Fejedelem was drafted at No. 245 by the Cincinnati Bengals.
You can bet Brian Kelly is going to hammer home the number 51,251,888 in the coming weeks and months.
That’s the estimated total contract dollar value Notre Dame’s seven draftees will earn, second among college football programs only to Ohio State (which, according to Spotrac.com, is a gargantuan $117,499,008). It’s a sexy number that’ll be used to entice recruits across the nation, as well as players within the program who face the decision to stay at Notre Dame or turn pro after a junior season.
Notre Dame’s draft-week success is a strong indicator that the program’s player development — especially on the offensive side of the ball — is in a good place.
Ronnie Stanley was Notre Dame’s first top-10 pick in 22 years, and Will Fuller’s decision to leave South Bend after three seasons paid off when the Houston Texans selected him 21st overall. Nick Martin was a second-round pick, while C.J. Prosise went in the third round. While it was a minor surprise to see Chris Brown go undrafted, those four players represent major player development successes.
Kelly and a cavalcade of Irish personnel successfully pitched Stanley on returning to Notre Dame for his senior season, and he improved his stock from mid-first-round status to being the first offensive lineman taken off the board (Laremy Tunsil’s bizarre Thursday certainly helped push Stanley up, too). Like Stanley, Martin was a Harry Hiestand success story, having steadily developed his game to the point where the Texans traded up two picks to nab him with the 50th selection.
Hiestand is one of Notre Dame’s more respected position coaches in recent memory. It’s not just from within the program, too — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave a shout-out to Hiestand, who coached the Chicago Bears offensive line from 2005-2009, in introducing Stanley last week. Having an NFL coach praise a college position coach is an awfully strong endorsement to pitch to recruits.
But the emergences of Fuller and Prosise as Day 1 and Day 2 picks were almost more impressive.
Fuller was overlooked coming out of high school in Philadelphia, and even after a breakout 2014 season, one early NFL mock draft had Corey Robinson, not Fuller, projected as a first-round pick. But under Mike Denbrock’s watch, Fuller developed from a raw speed burner into a refined, NFL-ready receiver.
A year ago, it would’ve been difficult to see Prosise as a third-round pick only a few months into his move to running back. Prosise himself admitted it in December that the idea of passing on a fifth year to enter the draft hadn’t really entered his mind until after last season — he figured he’d play a graduate year at Notre Dame and then see where his career would take him.
Instead, Prosise was an immediate success from Autry Denson’s position group, becoming Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. His explosive playmaking ability and versatility from the two years he spent at wide receiver made him an intriguing pick for the Seattle Seahawks.
Notre Dame also had three defensive players drafted, one from each unit. Jaylon Smith would’ve joined Stanley and Fuller as first-round picks had it not been for the concerns over nerve damage in his surgically-repaired knee; even despite those, though, the Dallas Cowboys used an early second-round pick on him.
Sheldon Day (Jacksonville Jaguars) and KeiVarae Russell (Kansas City Chiefs) were fourth-round picks, both landing in spots where they’ll have good opportunities to succeed right away.
It’s true that Notre Dame only had one player drafted in 2015 (tight end Ben Koyack, who went in the seventh round to Jacksonville). But had Stanley and Day declared, it would’ve been more, and both those guys are success stories in the sense of getting a degree from the prestigious Mendoza College of Business (and, in Stanley’s case, improving his draft stock).
Plenty of college football’s elite programs can trot out gaudy signing bonus numbers and Pro Bowl appearances for former players, though. Those are a good hook for plenty of blue-chip recruits.
But for some recruits — and plenty of parents — Notre Dame has another pitch to offer. Robinson and Steve Elmer are excellent examples of what can be done outside of football at Notre Dame, be it being elected student body president and starting a charity or leaving football to take a job in Washington D.C. after graduating in three and a half years.
And whatever the message may be, it’s working. Notre Dame ranks fourth in Rivals.com’s team recruiting rankings for the class of 2017.