Corey Bender

Signing Day Spotlight: Mike Epstein

It's been a long journey for Ft. Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas RB Mike Epstein, but on Wednesday he signed his LOI to Illinois. Illini Inquirer's Jeremy Werner and Ryan Easterling take a closer look at what the Illini are getting in the Sunshine State product.

Ryan Easterling’s Scouting Report

Reminds me of: DeMarco Murray.  On tape, Epstein’s ability to keep his hips square downhill when he runs, even when cutting, is very reminiscent of the talented NFL back.  He is a more-than-capable receiver out of the backfield who is a threat to take a screen pass to the house at any given time.  For his size, he runs extremely tough in traffic.


Epstein has no reservations about running in between the tackles, but is usually at his best when running off-tackle.  He bounced back well as a senior to earn the prestigious honor of Broward County Player of the Year, proving his toughness and resilience when faced with adversity.  He will bring a running style to Illinois that is unique and fits what the staff likes to do with their backs.

First-year impact

With the departure of Ke’Shawn Vaughn, the Illini have a need for a third running back to emerge. Sophomore Tre Nation is a bigger back but lacks much wiggle or burst. Redshirt sophomore Dre Brown is still on the roster but following torn ACLs (one in each knee) during back-to-back springs, he is a big unknown. Ra’Von Bonner and Mike Epstein are a bit more versatile. Expect at least one to play a role, especially if an injury occurs ahead of them. - Jeremy Werner

Werner’s narrative

Believe it or not, Epstein’s commitment has survived three Illinois head coaches. He committed on Aug. 6, 2015 when Tim Beckman was still earning Illinois paychecks. He stayed committed under Bill Cubit -- his son and then-offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit was Epstein’s top recruiter at the time -- and then stayed committed through the Cubit dismissal and Lovie Smith hiring. During that time, Epstein received several other power-five offers, including Utah, Louisville, Indiana, Rutgers and West Virginia -- and a late push from local power Miami. He also had a huge return to the field -- he missed his junior season due to a torn ACL -- rushing for 1,187 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns to lead St. Thomas Aquinas to a state championship game. The odds seem to have been against a marriage between Epstein and Illinois, but the engagement survived a lot of turmoil. It’d be great to see them live happily ever after.


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