A native of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Spence totaled 72 tackles in 2012, including seven for loss (second-best on the team). He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play.
"The current and past coaching staffs have been very supportive throughout my collegiate career," Spence said. "I can't say enough about the extremely loyal fans and the entire athletic department, who have all made my collegiate experience an unforgettable one. This has been a very important time in my life. My family and I look forward to the journey ahead and we expect nothing less than greatness on and off the field."
After redshirting in 2009, Spence started every game of his career, making 38 consecutive starts from 2010-12. Spence finished his time at Illinois with 186 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Spence is the second defensive tackle in the Big Ten to leave school early to pursue a professional career, joining Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Spence is rated the No. 9 defensive tackle and No. 90 overall prospect currently in the draft pool.
Spence will graduate this weekend with a degree in communications, another factor in Spence's decision to leave early.
"We wish Akeem nothing but the best as he moves on to the next phase of his football career," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "Akeem will earn his degree from the University of Illinois this weekend and worked very hard on the field and in the classroom to put himself in this position. He'll always be a part of the Fighting Illini family and I am confident he can have a successful professional career."
Spence is the eighth Illini player since 2008 to leave school with eligibly remaining -- Rashard Mendenhall, Vontae Davis, Arrelious Benn, Corey Liuget, Mikel Leshoure, Martez Wilson, Whitney Mercilus. Each player to leave early during that span was selected in the first 72 picks of the draft, including four first rounders.