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Illinois names Thad Ward running backs coach

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Twelve days after his first day on the job, Lovie Smith has checked one major box on his to-do list. The Illini have announced Thad Ward as the club’s new running backs coach, completing Smith’s initial coaching staff.

“Thad Ward will bring a new level of energy to our program,” Smith said in a statement. “He has been successful at each stop of his career, and is a proven recruiter. Thad has helped develop several outstanding players along the way, and I’m confident our current players will respond to his coaching in a positive way.”

Ward replaces former former Illinois quarterback-turned-running backs coach Nathan Scheelhaase, who remained on staff in an off-the-field role.

Ward spent the past three seasons upstate at Northern Illinois as wide receivers coach. Prior to that he deposited a year at Western Michigan, a year at Gardner-Webb, and six at Western Illinois. That six-year run with the Leathernecks, from 2005-10, represents the last time he coached running backs.

Illinois finished last season ranked 111th nationally in rushing at a shade below 130 yards per game. Sophomore Ke'Shawn Vaughn is the club’s leading returning rusher with 723 yards and six touchdowns accumulated in 2015.

Miami All-American, NFL Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy dead at 48

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One of the most physically-gifted and talented players in the history of Miami Hurricanes football is gone way, way too soon.

The Orlando Police Department confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Cortez Kennedy passed away earlier today.  He was just 48 years old.

No cause of death has been determined, with the OPD stating that “at this time there is nothing suspicious to report but we are conducting an investigation regarding his unattended passing.”

After starting his collegiate playing career at the junior college level, Kennedy moved on to the University of Miami, earning All-American honors in 1989.  In 2004, he was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame.

The third overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft, Kennedy spent his entire 11-year pro career with the Seattle Seahawks.  In 2012, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Not surprisingly, Kennedy’s sudden passing has brought an outpouring of emotion from those connected to the football program.

LSU RB Lanard Fournette arrested for illegal gambling at Baton Rouge casino

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The younger brother of Leonard Fournette has finally made a name for himself, albeit for all of the wrong reasons.

Monday afternoon, WAFB-TV reported, LSU running back Lanard Fournette was arrested on a charge of using a fake ID to gamble at a Baton Rouge casino this past weekend.  The 20-year-old Fournette was subsequently released on a $1,000 bond.

The Baton Rouge Advocate has obtained some of the details  led up to the arrest of the redshirt sophomore.

Fournette… was arrested Monday after surveillance video showed and casino personnel confirmed he gained access to the gaming floor Saturday with a different ID than his own driver’s license, according to his arrest report.

Security video showed Fournette playing at a “craps table” for 16 minutes around 1:30 p.m., before walking to the player’s services counter. Fournette then allegedly presented his real ID to the cashier for a cash withdrawal, who determined his accurate age and contacted security, the report says.

Fournette, of Slidell, was detained at the casino, but left before the officer’s arrival, the report says. When casino security asked Fournette about the incident, Fournette said he used another person’s ID to enter the casino, the report says.

Head coach Ed Orgeron is aware of the incident and any discipline will be handled internally.

A three-star 2015 signee, Fournette took a redshirt his true freshman season.  In three games last year, he ran for 13 yards on five carries.

Fournette’s older brother was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft following an Al-American career at LSU.

Ex-South Carolina QB signs Cal financial aid agreement

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It’s now officially official.

Just a day after Brandon McIlwain indicated on social media that he would be transferring to Cal, the Golden Bears acknowledged in a release that the quarterback “has signed a financial aid agreement and will join the school’s football program.”  Additionally, the football team confirmed that the two-sport student-athlete is expected to play baseball for the university as well.

In late February, McIlwain announced that he would be transferring from South Carolina.  The true sophomore will not play for the football Bears in the upcoming season, but will have three years of eligibility at his disposal after that.

“We’re excited that Brandon has decided to enroll at Cal and become a member of both our football and baseball programs,” a statement from head coach Justin Wilcox began. “We’re looking forward to his contributions and having him join the competition in our quarterback room.”

“I am excited to develop under the incredible coaching staff at Cal,” McIlwain said in his statement. “The Golden Bears have a great quarterback history. In addition, I am equally excited about returning to the Bay Area and taking advantage of the university’s amazing education.”

As a true freshman last season, McIlwain started three of the 12 games in which he played.  In that time, he completed 62-of-118 passes for 600 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception, while he added 127 yards and another two scores on the ground.

The emergence of fellow freshman Jake Bentley midway through the season, however, left McIlwain with no clear football path to a starting job.

Title IX probe into sexual assault allegations involving three Michigan State football players completed

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The Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving playing members of the Michigan State football team has ended, the Associated Press and other media outlets are reporting.

In early February, three unidentified football players as well as a football staffer were suspended amidst allegations that a sexual assault took place on January 16 at an on-campus apartment complex.  As a result of the allegations, a Title IX investigation into the alleged incident commenced in early February and lasted a little over three months.

That investigation was headed by Rebecca Veidlinger, an independent Title IX consultant and Ann Arbor attorney who previously worked in MSU’s Title IX office.  Because of federal privacy laws, the university will not release the findings of Veidlinger’s probe.

As for the next step in the process? Mlive.com explains.

Speaking generally about Title IX investigations, [university spokesperson Jason] Cody said there are two possible outcomes at the conclusion of an investigation. If no university policy violation is found, then the matter would be closed. If a policy violation was found, the case would then be sent to the school’s student conduct system.

The student conduct system could then levy any sanction ranging from a warning or probation to suspension or expulsion.

The alleged sexual assault has spawned three separate investigations, including the recently-completed Title IX probe.  A criminal investigation conducted by campus police led to requests for four arrest warrants to be issued, although the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office has thus far declined to act.  Additionally, the university has hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the football program and its handling of the allegations.

Thus far, the names of the players allegedly involved in the assault have not been released.  The suspended staffer was subsequently identified as Curtis Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance.  Blackwell, who is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault but rather a non-sexual crime after the fact, has received a pair of one-month contract extensions since his suspension was levied.