Illinois junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus announced Tuesday that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Mercilus entered the season as a relative unknown and finished it as one of the nation’s elite defensive players. During his breakout campaign, he led the nation with 16 sacks, forced a Big Ten-record nine fumbles and registered a Big Ten-leading 22.5 tackles for loss.
The Big Ten was well represented on the AP All-America team, with nine players tabbed. Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus, Michigan C David Molk, Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy, Penn State DT Devon Still and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and G Kevin Zeitler were all first-teamers, while Nebraska LB Lavonte David and Wisconsin C Peter Konz earned second-team honors, and Ohio State DT John Simon was a third-team pick. Most impressive, Mercilus, Still and Worthy represent three of the four defensive lineman on the first team. Yeah, it was that kind of year for the Big Ten in the trenches.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart spent the season covering Big Ten football, and now it’s time for his team-by-team season recaps. Every day, for the next 12 days, Dienhart will post a recap for each Big Ten school, in alphabetical order. Up first: Illinois. Watch our video from the Illini’s impressive nonconference victory over Arizona State now and read Dienhart’s season recap in this post.
Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus won the Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, it was announced Wednesday. The junior leads the nation in sacks (14.5), sacks per game (1.2) and forced fumbles (9) while ranking sixth nationally in tackles for loss per game (1.6). The award makes Mercilus the first Illini to win a national honor since Dana Howard (1994) and Kevin Hardy (1995) won the Butkus Award in back-to-back years.