CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Both Luke Ford and Jamal Woods are back in the Orange and Blue for one more year. The two Illinois football players recently announced they are returning for a fourth and sixth season with the program, respectively, providing the program with some much needed depth and experience at their positions.

“I’m from this state, I love this state, I love Illinois, I love the fan base and I believe in this coaching staff so that’s really the main reason I’m coming back,” Ford said. “There’s a lot of factors that came into this. If I do come back, I have a lot of things I can improve on to increase my draft stock and draft grade.”

With Daniel Barker pulling his name from NFL Draft consideration and entering the transfer portal, the door is open for Ford to be the feature tight end this fall. The Carterville native and Georgia transfer caught 15 passes for 114 yards last season as a redshirt junior.

On the other side of the ball, Woods is coming off a mostly healthy season, a rarity for the soon to be sixth-year senior. The Alabama native has struggled with injuries throughout his college career but managed to play in 10 games in 2021, recording 12 tackles and 2.0 TFL. Playing mostly behind freshmen Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr., Woods says he will take on whatever role is necessary to see the Illini take another step forward, after going 5-7 in head coach Bret Bielema’s first season.

“I’m still a leader on this team and whatever coach wants me to do, I’m all for it,” said Woods. “I’m most excited to see where this team is going to end up at. Last year with the staff in their first year, we did fairly decent but I believe this year, this could be the year.”