After two years without an NFL Draft pick, Illinois’ draft drought is over.
Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illini selected in the draft since 2013 when the Oakland Raiders picked him with the No. 44 pick Friday.
Since 1971, only four drafts have not featured an Illinois product, with two coming in succession in each of the past two years (1972, 2006, 2014, 2015). This recent drought snapped a string of successful drafts for the Illini, which featured a first-round pick in four of five drafts from 2008 to 2012.
The 2013 draft featured four Illinois players selected: Hugh Thornton (third round), Akeem Spence (fourth round), Terry Hawthorne (fifth round) and Michael Buchanan (seventh round).
Ward is the highest Illini picked since the 2012 draft, when Illinois saw four players taken in the first two rounds: Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins in the first, Jeff Allen and Tavon Wilson in the second.
Ward spent the past two seasons at Illinois after transferring in from junior college. In 25 games, he recorded 104 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
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.