CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Special teams players Blake Hayes, James McCourt and Ethan Tabel have all announced they will be coming back for 2021. The seniors were left with a sour taste in their mouth after this past season, leaving them wanting more.
“For my senior year I want to end on a high,” said McCourt. He made six of his 10 field goals this season, five of those attempts coming against Rutgers on the road. He simply wasn’t satisfied after he had 19 attempts in 2019. The Ireland native is also hoping to start next season in the place he calls home. The Illini are still scheduled to open the season in Dublin against Nebraska.
Hayes also said the decision to return was an easy one. As a hopeful NFL prospect, he felt like he wasn’t where he needed to be to reach the next level. The Australia native hasn’t been home in a year, but is bought into Bret Bielama’s vision for the program.
“I want to be part of a change, and I really want to bring this culture that Coach B is bringing, when he spoke to us the day after Penn State I was sold on what he was saying.”
McCourt echoes that statement, saying Bielema’s hiring played a big role in his decision to return.
“His message was emotional, it was passionate, it was all about culture and it was the things I love to hear, and I think it’s things this team needs to improve on,” said McCourt.
Tabel will also return to the unit, and will spend the next few months recovering from an ACL injury. The longsnapper played through his injury after getting hurt against Iowa. He’s grateful for the opportunity to play with this special teams group one more time.
“It means everything, I love those guys. We’ve become best friends through the experiences we’ve shared together,” said Tabel. “So to be able to run it back with these guys one more time, and hopefully have our best season yet, it’s really special.
There is no update on the status of special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky. Bret Bielema is still putting together his staff, and hasn’t hired a special teams coordinator yet.