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Illinois officially welcomes Georgia transfer TE Luke Ford

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Illinois may not have been able to secure a commitment from the top player in the state coming out of high school, but the Illini got him now. Tight end Luke Ford has officially been added to the Illinois football program, as announced today the school Tuesday.

Ford announced his intent to transfer from Georgia to Illinois a few days ago. In his previous statement about his decision to leave the Bulldogs, Ford cited a desire to be closer to his family due to the health of his grandparents and the cost for his family to travel to see him play each week. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith mentioned that factor in a statement about the addition of Ford to the roster.

“Luke Ford was the top-rated recruit in the state of Illinois his senior year and we worked very hard in developing a great relationship during his recruitment,” Smith said in a released statement. “It’s not unusual for athletes wanting to be near home so that family members are close by, and we are extremely happy that Luke felt Illinois was the place for him to attend school and play football after making the decision to transfer.”

Smith and Illinois have been busy adding to their roster with transfer players this offseason. Illinois previously added Miami wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Oklahoma wide receiver A.D. Miller. Minnesota defensive back Rey Estes also previously announced his decision to transfer to Illinois.

Illinois boots three players charged with home invasion and robbery

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.

Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.

Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.

Herm Edwards visits Illini to give pep talk

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Former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards paid a visit to another former NFL coach on Tuesday. Edwards was in Champaign to visit Lovie Smith and his Illinois football program. While there, Edwards was scheduled to give the Illini a good old-fashioned pep talk. He’s good at that.

This is a reminder that the NFL coaching fraternity remains a strong bond over the years. Smith and Edwards were never a part of the same coaching staff in the NFL, but the two have remained friends over the years. Smith having these types of connections should be exploited at every opportunity to help promote the Illini program and boost it when needed. Edwards has been a vocal supporter of Smith, so it makes sense Smith would have his pal stop by and do what he does best. And he’s done it a number of times…

At Alabama in 2013…

Or the previous year before the Las Vegas Bowl…

Or this past summer with NC State…

Illinois is 2-5 this season and now flirting with the likelihood of not going to a postseason bowl game in Smith’s first season on the job. We’ll see if Edwards is able to give the program the extra juice it needs.

Here’s hoping we get some video footage of Edwards speaking to the Illini.

Lovie Smith asked about toughness on players: Are you freaking kidding me?

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The start of the Lovie Smith era at Illinois has not exactly gone smoothly. Illinois dropped to 1-4 this weekend with an overtime loss at home to Purdue, of all teams. Is the pressure getting to Lovie, or did a reporter simply ask a ridiculous question Monday during a regularly scheduled press availability?

Whatever the case, Smith did not take kindly to a question about how tough he is being with his team. The very concept of the question seemed to rub Smith the wrong way, as he pretty much challenged the reporter to ask the question again, as if Smith couldn’t believe he was just asked such a ridiculous thing.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” Smith said in resposne. “Have I been too lax with our football team? So I’m freaking going out there every day just letting them do what they want to do? Absolutely not. I’m not going to give that question an answer. Lax with a football team? Are you freaking lax with your job? I’m not either.”

Here is a video of the interaction, as provided by our friends over at CSN Chicago

The irony about the question tossed Smith’s way though is Smith replaced a coach in Tim Beckman who was fired for being too tough on his players (and just being an all-around bad dude).

Illinois loses WR Mike Dudek to torn ACL for second straight year

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For the second season in a row, Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek will be out of action due to a torn ACL. The redshirt sophomore receiver tore his right ACL in a non-contact drill in spring practice last Saturday. It is the same injury he experienced a year ago in spring practices, nearly to the day.

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith announced Dudek will undergo season-ending surgery sometime next week.

“It’s really unfortunate. He worked himself hard to get back out here this spring and was excited about the season,” Smith told reporters following a spring practice Friday. “Nowadays you can have successful surgery and come back as strong as ever and that’s what we expect from him… He’ll go through this process again and will be on the road to recovery before you know it.”

Dudek was a rising star for the Illini in 2014 as a true freshmen, but has been relegated to the sideline for two straight falls now due to injuries. Dudek has already used a redshirt year since joining the program, so it will be up to the NCAA to determine whether or not he be granted an extra year for a medical exemption,should Dudek and Illinois eventually apply for it down the road.

The loss of Dudek is a tough one for the Illinois offense, which should take on a new look this season with a new coaching staff including Garrick McGee as offensive coordinator. Illinois returns Malik Turner and Desmond Cain as leading receivers this fall, but Dudek was expected to help lead the receivers as he did as a freshman in 2014 with a 1,000-yard season and a team-high six touchdown catches.