Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Terps' Will Likely a scoring threat on defense, special teams

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Big Ten preview: Terps' Will Likely a scoring threat on defense, special teams

Will Likely doesn’t play on the offensive side of the ball. But he’s arguably the most likely — no pun intended — Terp to reach the end zone.

Likely is a whiz in multiple facets of the game, serving as an expert return man on both punts and kickoffs. And he is an ace cornerback, too. Last season, he scored four touchdowns — one apiece on punt return and kickoff return and twice on interception returns.

He was an All-Big Ten defensive back, leading the league with six interceptions, and he also averaged more kick-return yards than any player in the conference. This season, he’s landed on numerous preseason award watch lists.

Likely is perhaps Maryland’s biggest star. And he’s looking at 2015 as an opportunity to get even better.

“I just want to be better than I was last year,” Likely said Monday during the team’s media day. “I’m going to practice hard every day and compete with those guys like (wide receiver Levern Jacobs). He helps me get better with my craft. Just competing overall is going to help me get better.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Kicking machine Brad Craddock is Terps' greatest asset]

Being better than he was last season will be a tough task, considering how good Likely was in 2014. He totaled 891 return yards between punts, kickoffs and interceptions.

But even if he can’t eclipse his excellent 2014 season, there have already been improvements. Head coach Randy Edsall pointed to an increase in Likely’s leadership abilities this offseason.

“Will is one of those rare and unique young men,” Edsall said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “You know, he's just got some special attributes about himself. He might be 5-foot-8, but he plays like he's 6-foot-4. But the thing that Will does, Will brings a presence to the defense and to the secondary, one of hard work, one of preparation and somebody that's got to find a way to be successful.

“The thing that I've really liked that I've seen happen for Will is Will has been a lot more vocal since the season ended. He's taken on more of a leadership role with our team. And the players respect him. I don't know if I've been around a guy that's so competitive. You see what he does for us on special teams as a punt returner, as a kick returner. You know, he's very valuable. But the other thing is he's a very humble kid. But his leadership, his work ethic really rubs off on everybody else in our program.”

With an offense featuring a ton of new faces — Maryland lost its starting quarterback and its top four receivers from last season — special teams might play an even bigger role for the Terps than most teams. Good thing, then, that the unit has two of the Big Ten’s best players in Likely and kicker Brad Craddock. The Terps might end up with one of the higher-scoring special teams units in the conference.

And Likely might be one of the higher-scoring players on his team, even though he doesn't carry the ball or catch it.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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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.