Big Ten

After Dawuane Smoot goes in NFL Draft's third round, six Illini get NFL shots as free agents, camp invitees

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AP

After Dawuane Smoot goes in NFL Draft's third round, six Illini get NFL shots as free agents, camp invitees

Illinois' incredible track record of sending defensive linemen to the NFL continued this past weekend, as Dawuane Smoot was picked in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Smoot, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round, became the sixth Illini defensive lineman drafted since 2011, joining Corey Liuget, Whitney Mercilus, Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan and Jihad Ward. Four of those guys, including Smoot, are defensive ends.

But there could be more Illinois rookies in the league this fall, as five of Smoot's former teammates were signed as undrafted free agents in the wake of the final selection on Saturday and a sixth got an invite to rookie mini-camp.

Wide receiver Justin Hardee signed with the Houston Texans, quarterback Wes Lunt signed with the Minnesota Vikings, linebacker Hardy Nickerson signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, pass-rusher Carroll Phillips signed with the Jaguars, and pass-rusher Gimel President signed with the Texans. Defensive tackle Rob Bain got an invite to the New York Jets' rookie mini-camp.

For those keeping score, that's three more Illinois defensive linemen getting shots with NFL teams.

Phillips, Lunt and Nickerson will be the most recognizable names on that list to Illinois fans.

Phillips had 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season, getting him on the All-Big Ten First Team, and he was expected by many to be selected this past weekend. Instead, he'll re-team with Smoot in Jacksonville.

Lunt was not expected to be drafted, but the classically pro-style quarterback, who was the starter for three seasons even if he had trouble staying healthy and staying on the field, will get his NFL shot in the Twin Cities. Despite those injuries, though, Lunt wrapped his time at Illinois ranking in the top 10 in program history in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes.

Nickerson, the son of a former All-Pro linebacker and Illinois' current defensive coordinator, was the Illini's leading tackler last season.

Hardee has battled his own injury issues and missed the entire 2015 campaign. President had 12.5 tackles for loss after transferring in from Auburn for one season. Bain could find an NFL job on special teams after blocking four kicks at Illinois.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.