Illinois senior linebacker LaKeith Walls tweeted on Wednesday that he will transfer out of Illinois. The Cleveland native, who redshirted his first year at Illinois, will be eligible immediately at his next school due to the graduate transfer rule.
Walls mostly played on special teams and passing subpackages the past two seasons. He totled 32 tackles during his three seasons, including 11 last season.
"Will always be grateful for the opportunity extended to me by Coach Beckman and the Illinois football program to attend this prestigious university," Walls tweeted.
"This was the hardest decision of my life but is (sic) what is best moving forward for both me and my family. Forever an Illini!"
Walls' tweet included a letter from Illinois that said he is blocked from transferring to any Big Ten program, North Carolina, Western Michigan and Murray State -- all teams Illinois plays this upcoming season.
Illinois has a big need for linebackers. Rising senior T.J. Neal, who had a breakout 2015 with 109 tackles and 14.0 tackles for loss, will return to play the strongside. But four-year starter Mason Monheim, who finished seventh on the Illini career tackles lists, was lost to graduation.
Also, the availability of one of the team's most talented young linebackers, rising sophomore Julian Jones, is still unclear.
Jones will return to campus for spring semester and take classes. But an Illinois football team spokesman said Jones will remain "suspended from team activities until (his) legal matter is resolved."
Illinois coach Bill Cubit indefinitely suspended Jones in November following a criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault of a high school girl in his homestate of Georgia during the Illini's bye week in mid-October. Jones was arrested in Champaign in November on a charge of "fugitive from justice" and was transported back to George for arraignment.
Rising sophomore Tre Watson, who had 21 tackles last season, enters spring camp as the frontrunner for the starting middle linebacker spot, while rising junior James Crawford (36 tackles, 4.0 TFLs last season) is penciled in as the starting weakside linebacker.