Big Ten

The newest Illini: Lovie Smith announces impressive 2017 recruiting class

The newest Illini: Lovie Smith announces impressive 2017 recruiting class

The Lovie Effect? Well, it seems to be working for Illinois.

Smith announced his first recruiting class since taking over as the Fighting Illini head coach last spring, and it's nothing to shake a stick at, ranked 11th in the Big Ten and 47th in the country by Rivals.

No it's not the caliber of Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State — or Maryland's surprisingly fantastic haul — but for a program that's wallowed at the bottom of the Big Ten for years, Smith's first showing on the recruiting trail should have Illinois fans and observers handing out praise.

The headliners are a trio of four-star recruits: Brother Rice wide receiver Ricky Smalling and two Miami natives and high school teammates in wide receiver Carmoni Green and defensive end Owen Carney. Those four-star ratings per Rivals.

Smalling was ranked as a top-50 wideout in this year's class and the No. 6 player in the state of Illinois, while Green was the No. 53 wide receiver in the country and Carney was the 15th-ranked player at his position.

Three other players in Smith's class received four-star ratings from other services: Peoria defensive lineman Kendrick Green, St. Louis offensive lineman Larry Boyd and graduate transfer linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips.

One of the highest-profile names of this class, quarterback Dwayne Lawson, didn't sign on National Signing Day, causing some consternation on social media. Lawson, a former Virginia Tech Hokie and graduate transfer who announced his commitment to Smith and Illinois in early December, is "working through academic issues," according to a report from the Tribune's Shannon Ryan.

Lawson has a three-star rating from Rivals now, but he was a four-star recruit when he picked Virginia Tech back in 2015. His commitment was cause for celebration among Illinois faithful, not only because of his talent but because of the huge question mark at the quarterback position heading into the 2017 season. The graduation of Wes Lunt leaves Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. as the holdover options, making Lawson a prime candidate for the starting job.

Including Smalling and Kendrick Green, Smith recruited 10 players from Illinois: St. Rita linebacker Mark Mondesir, Belleville defensive back Tony Adams, Rockford offensive lineman Vederian Lowe, Huntley defensive lineman Lere Oladipo, East St. Louis quarterback James Knight, Marion Catholic quarterback Cameron Thomas, Bolingbrook wide receiver Kendall Smith and Mount Prospect offensive lineman Alex Palczewski.

In the end, five of the top-20 players in the state and seven of the top 30 chose the Illini.

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

jeremy_larkin.jpg
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

anderson.jpg
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.