"I Will Always Be An Illini"--Mikel Leshoure

The Fighting Illini football team is sending another running back to the National Football League with the announcement that Mikel Leshoure is leaving school a year early to pursue his dreams of professional football. He is the fifth Illini player in four years to depart with eligibility remaining and second running back. He is considered a likely high draft choice.

Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure made it official today at a special assembly at the Centennial High School gymnasium.

"I'm here to announce that I will forego my senior season at the University of Illinois and enter the 2011 NFL draft. I believe I've accomplished everything I can at the college level and want to go after my dream of playing in the NFL. I believe this is the best time for me to go to the next level.

"I believe I've accomplished everything I can at the college level and want to go after my dream of playing in the NFL. I believe this is the best time for me to go to the next level."

Leshoure shared his special day with his family, friends, coaches and teammates at the Centennial High School gymnasium. He singled out coaches and players who helped him achieve his goals at the college level.

"I've had a wonderful career through my years at the University of Illinois, and I will always consider myself an Illini. I would like to give special thanks to Coach (Paul) Petrino, Coach (Ron) Zook and Coach (DeAndre) Smith for all their support. I'd like to thank my teammates, especially my offensive line. Without them, I wouldn't be here today."

Illini coaches were prohibited from attending since this is a dead period for recruiting and Leshoure's announcement was off campus. But Zook shared his thoughts for the occasion.

"I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois. He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history. We hope he has a long and successful NFL career."

Leshoure made the announcement at Centennial rather than the U of I because it was where he first became serious about football. There was another reason as well, and he pleased his mother with it's telling.

"Education is very important to me. Education has afforded me the opportunity to play football here at Champaign Centennial and the University of Illinois. It's important to me to finish my degree eventually, and I will do so, Mom."

He used this opportunity to stress education to young athletes in the audience.

"To all athletes, the number one thing I can say is work hard in the classroom. I can't stress how important education is. Sports won't be here forever; you need a backup plan."

The Communications major is fulfilling a dream he's harbored for as long as he can remember.

"This has been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. Even before I picked up a football, it's something I wanted."

He discounted concerns over a possible NFL players strike, salary caps, lockouts, etc., when making his decision.

"I definitely thought about all those things. I spent a long time thinking and praying about those things, and I still woke up with the same decision I made today. I know the risks, and it's a risk I want to take."

Leshoure is a Dallas Cowboys fan, but he will be happy with any team that selects him.

"Whoever decides to pick me up will be a blessing."

Leshoure established himself as one of the best running backs in Illinois history. He was a second team All-American by Associated Press and first team All-Big 10 selection in 2010 after setting a single season Illini rushing record with 1,697 yards. He was named MVP of the Texas Bowl, gaining 184 yards to help the Illini defeat Baylor, 38-14.

He also set single season records for points with 122 and touchdowns with 20. He set a single game rushing record at Wrigley Field against Northwestern with 330 yards. Leshoure finished his career tied for sixth on the Illinois career rushing list with Juice Williams at 2,545 yards. He is tied for fourth all-time with 28 career touchdowns.

Leshoure demonstrated his maturity with this summation.

"As I take this next step, three things will remain constant in my thinking: how important my family is, finishing my education and being the best player I can be on and off the field."

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