Several Illinis gain national recognition ahead of 2022 campaign

Since the start of the Bret Bielema era of Illinois football, things seemed to be looking up for the Orange and Blue.

The light has started to shine even brighter with recent preseason recognition. Illini fans have plenty to be excited about the upcoming season. In addition to the improved quarterback room, returning upper classes and incoming young guns, the Illini had several players included on preseason awards watchlists.

Several Illinois football players achieve national recognition.

Brown became the first Illini to be named to a watchlist when he was included in the Maxwell Prize watchlist on July 18.

This award is given to the college player of the year and is presented in honor of Robert Maxwell – a college football legend, official and sports journalist.

Notable recipients of the award include Joe Burrow (2019), Lamar Jackson (2016), Derrick Henry (2015), and the Manning Brothers among many other college football legends.

Not only was Brown named to that list, but the Illini standout was also on the Doak Walker Award watch list — an award given to the top running back in college football.

Hart was recognized as one of the best linebackers in the nation when he was included on the Butkus Award Watch List on July 25. This award is given to the top linebacker in the nation in honor of Illinois football legend Dick Butkus.

“When a player receives the Butkus Award, he will know two things. First, he is recognized as the best of the best linebackers in America. Second, and long term most important, he will understand that with this recognition comes responsibility for serve others by giving back.
Dick Butkus

Notable past recipients of this award include Roquan Smith (2017), Jaylon Smith (2015), Luke Kuechly (2011), Von Miller (2010), and Patrick Willis (2006).

Hart transferred to Illinois in January 2021, shortly after Bielema arrived.

Palczewski was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List for the second time on July 26. This trophy is awarded to the top interior offensive lineman in the nation by the Football Writers Association of America in honor of John Outland – a former All-American offensive lineman.

The senior will enter the 2022 season as Illini’s most experienced and versatile offensive lineman with 52 career starts – 36 at tackle and 16 at guard.

Junior tight end Luke Ford was named one of the nation’s top tight ends when he was included on the Mackey Awards Watch List on July 22.

The award is given to the best tight end in the country. Kyle Pitts (2020), TJ Hockenson (2018), Mark Andrews (2017), Hunter Henry (2015) and Tyler Eifert (2012) are some recent notable recipients.

Last season, Ford started all 12 games, finishing fifth on the team with 15 receptions for 114 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

With the addition of Syracuse transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito and the departure of former tight end Daniel Barker, Ford will likely play a vital role in Illini’s offense in 2022.

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