The Illini will be without their top defensive lineman for the first two games of the upcoming season.
Head coach Tim Beckman told reporters Friday that Jihad Ward will be out for games against Kent State and Western Illinois with an injury, one that will require minor surgery and keep Ward off the practice field for three or four weeks.
“He’ll be out for the first two football games,” Beckman said, his quotes published by the Champaign News Gazette. “He’ll be having a little surgery here in a couple days.
“It’s never a good time for anybody to get injured because he’s been practicing hard. He’ll be back on the field when he’s ready.”
[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Will experience lead to success for Illini defense?]
Beckman didn't tell reporters what the injury was, though reports have indicated it's a knee injury. Similar to the ACL injuries suffered during spring practice by wide receiver Mike Dudek and running back Dre Brown, Ward's injury was a non-contact injury.
Ward, entering his second season with the Illini after transferring in from junior college ahead of the 2014 season, is expected to be one of Illinois' top defensive players. Last season, he recorded 51 tackles including 8.5 for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
The injury to Ward will require some juggling on the defensive line for the first two games, with Dawuane Smoot being the likely choice to slide in for Ward at defensive end.
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 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.