CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Delano Ware is settled into his new role as a full-time outside linebacker for the Illini and the junior will be tested in the season opener at No. 14 Wisconsin Friday night. With starter Milo Eifler sitting out the first half due to a targeting call in the Redbox Bowl last season, Ware will likely get the start in his place on the weakside.
The California native switched between defensive back and linebacker last season for the Illini, playing in nine games with one start at safety. A hand injury against Minnesota forced him to miss four games, but he still managed 22 tackles, two pass break-ups and one forced fumble for the season. As a freshman, Ware started eight games at defensive back; five at nickelback and three at safety. Illini head coach Lovie Smith approached the 6-foot, 220-pounder about making the switch to the box full time this season.
“It didn’t catch me off guard,” Ware said. “Coach would bring me into the office and was like, ‘We need you to be at linebacker.’ And I’m all for the team, if the team want me to do it I’m going to do it. I have a chance to put on and just help the team out. Best 11 on the field and that’s what I’m doing. I’m just all for the team.”
Smith called Ware a ‘fourth starter at linebacker’ for the Illini, who will rely on Eifler on the weakside, Jake Hansen in the middle and Khalan Tolson on the strong side. Hansen moved to the middle after Dele Harding graduated, he was the Big Ten’s top tackler last season. Two other guys to keep an eye on in the rotation: sophomore Tarique Barnes and redshirt freshman Shammond Cooper.