Fittingly, there's a Fighting Illini on the Butkus Award watch list.
The award, handed out to the nation's top linebacker each season, is named for the man who's arguably Illinois' greatest-ever football product, Dick Butkus. So why not have a fellow Illini on the preseason watch list?
That fellow Illini is Mason Monheim, a junior who had 97 total tackles a season ago to go along with 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a sack. Monheim figures to be a leader of the linebacking corps and the defense as a whole following the departure of Jonathan Brown.
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Monheim's numbers aren't quite Butkus-level, but then again, whose numbers are? Butkus was an All-American in 1963 and 1964, finishing in the top 10 in Heisman voting in each of those seasons. Then he went on to become arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history with the Bears.
There are five other Big Ten players on this year's Butkus Award watch list: Maryland's Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, Ohio State's Curtis Grant, Penn State's Mike Hull, Michigan State's Taiwan Jones and Michigan's Jake Ryan.