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Illini football players featured on Athlon’s preseason lists



Jer'Zhan Newton

Illini football players are on both All-Big Ten and All-American lists.

Athlon Sports is one of the most respected sports magazines in the country. Its college football division is one of the best in the business. As the 2023 season approaches, there are high expectations in Champaign. One of the reasons for the high expectations is the number of veteran players returning to the Blue and Orange. However, it’s not just the number of players but also the high-end talent the Illini return. A total of 11 players made Athlon Sports’ preseason All-American and All-Big-Ten lists. Here is the Illini who made the lists:

Preseason All-American:

DL Jer’Zhan Newton: There is a chance that Newton is the first interior defensive lineman taken in the 2024 NFL Draft. Newton can play 3-4 end or tackle on a four-man front. Newton led the Illini in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (14.0). What was most impressive was that Newton was third on the team in tackles.

Keith Randolph, Jr.: Newton’s running mate on the interior was named a Third-Team All-American and First-Team, All-Big Team selection. The redshirt senior was second on the team in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (13.0). At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Randolph can play defensive end in either a 3-4 or four-man front.

Preseason All-Big Ten:

WR/PR Isaiah Williams: Many preseason lists are bullish on quarterback turned wide receiver Isaiah Williams this season. There is a lot of good reason for this as well. Williams led the Illini in receiving last season. With Luke Altmyer at quarterback, expect more big plays for Williams.

OL Isaiah Adams: Adams anchors an offensive line that is on the Joe Moore Award watchlist. The redshirt senior guard anchors an offensive line that opened holes for Chase Brown last season and will continue to create holes for whoever runs the football this fall.

Second Team

RB Josh McCray: Replacing a player like Chase Brown is no easy task. He and Reggie Love get the first crack at the starting running back spot. McCray has tons of ability. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, he is a rare combination of size and speed. McCray can be a cog in the Illini football offense if he can stay healthy.

OL Julian Pearl: Like Adams, Julian Pearl is another anchor on one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten and all college football. Pearl and Adams form one of college football’s best offensive guard/tackle combinations.

Third Team

K Caleb Griffin: Griffin struggled in the kicking game last season, going 14 of 19 kicking field goals. However, he has a strong leg, and a young freshman in David Olano nipping at his heels. Those are ingredients for a bounce-back season.

Fourth Team

LB Seth Coleman: One of the cogs of last season’s defense, Seth Coleman is set to have an even better year in 2023. Coleman tied for second on the team in sacks. Expect new defensive coordinator Aaron Henry to bring more pressure from the linebackers, and Coleman is just the man for the job.

LB Gabe Jacas: Speaking of bringing pressure from the outside, Jacas should improve on his four sacks from last season. He’s an aggressive linebacker with a nose for the football. Jacas got a lot of experience as a freshman and should be that much better as a sophomore.

CB Tahveon Nicholson: Could the Illini have another early-round pick at cornerback? Yes, if Tahveon Nicholson plays to form. Nicholson is one of the younger players that got valuable experience in 2022. Expect the redshirt junior to have a breakout season.

Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.