Illini Honor 14 Seniors at Annual Banquet

The Fighting Illini football team, families and friends gathered to honor 14 seniors and the season's award winners at the 102nd annual football banquet sponsored for the 86th straight year by the Rotary Club, Monday night at the Illini Union.<br><br> The following are the Illini award winners from the 2004 Illinois Football Banquet.

Story courtesy the University of Illinois
Most Valuable Player: Pierre Thomas, running back
One of the most exciting young running backs in the Big Ten, sophomore Pierre Thomas rushed for a team-leading 893 yards and 10 touchdowns. He posted two games over 180 yards with 188 against Michigan State and 185 against Indiana and four 100-plus performances. Not only was he strong in the rushing game, but his success in kickoff returns earned him a spot in the history book with two returns over 70-yards, matching the great Red Grange's accomplishment. Thomas returned a kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown against Western Michigan and followed that up with a 72-yard return against Purdue. He also ranked first in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 151.4 per game and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten.

Offensive Player of the Year: Duke Preston, center
Considered by many to be the team leader, Duke Preston was a three-year starter at center. He aided the Illini in passing for over 2,000 yards for the fifth straight year and the team rushed for 1,686. Preston served as the team captain for 10 of 11 games this season. For his performance this year, he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Defensive Player of the Year: Kelvin Hayden, cornerback
Hayden was the 2003 team leader in receiving yards, and in one season switched positions only to excel and lead the Big Ten and the squad in interceptions as a cornerback. He finished fifth on the team with 71 total tackles and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his performances. Hayden recorded four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown against Florida A&M. He also broke up four passes and in his best game played held All-American wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan to only three catches and 18 yards.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Steve Weatherford, punter
With 57 punts for 2,589 yards, junior punter Steve Weatherford averaged 45.4 yards per kick in 2004, breaking the single-season record set by himself just one year ago. His career punting average of 44.0 also is good enough for the Illinois career record. His performance got him on the semifinalist list for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's best punter. He ranked second in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation in punting average, while pinning 23 punts inside the 20-yardline. Weatherford punted a career-long 79-yarder against Iowa, while recording a total of 20 punts over 50-yards. He also rushed for 12 yards and a first down on a fake punt, energizing the team against Indiana, while scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal in the season finale over Northwestern.

Bruce Capel Award: Bucky Babcock, offensive line
Babcock has shown perseverance on the Illinois football team through position changes, injury and most of all his tenure of 47 starts on the offensive line. Babccock started all but one game of his four years as a starter and played a major role in two consecutive record-setting offenses in 2001 and 2002. The Bruce Capel Award is given to the Illini player who displays the most courage, dedication and accomplishment throughout the season. Babcock twice was named to the honorable mention All-Big Ten teams and was a freshman All-American in 2001.

Wright Commitment to Success Award: Ade Adeyemo, wide receiver Ade Adeyemo came to Illinois as a promising receiver and finished his career plagued by injuries. He suffered a broken rib and missed four games in 2003, and after beginning the season with nine catches in 2004, he broke his leg to end his senior season with only four games played. He completed his career with 25 receptions and 340 yards. The Wright Commitment to Excellence Award is presented to the individual who has dedicated themselves to academic excellence despite obstacles faced during his collegiate career. Despite adversity on the field, Adeyemo excelled off the field and earned his undergraduate degree in May of 2004.

Rookie of the Year: Justin Harrison, safety
As a true-freshman Justin Harrison started in seven games this season at free safety, while playing in all 11. He finished the season second on the team in total tackles and has earned freshman All-America honors from Rivals.com. He tallied 79 tackles, which was a leader in the secondary, and recorded an interception with a return of 72 yards.

Monsignor E. Duncan Award: Jim Juriga
The Monsignor Edward J. Duncan Award, the Illini team chaplain since 1943, was initiated in 1994 in recognition of the more than 60 years of service the director of the Newman Foundation has provided the football team and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The award is presented annually to the University of Illinois football letterman, which has displayed exemplary integrity and dedication to this community/state/country/church through public service and citizenship. This year's recipient is Jim Juriga, a 1986 graduate of the University of Illinois. He was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman for the Fighting Illini from 1982-85. Juriga started 41 games at Illinois as both a tackle and guard, earning All-America honors in 1983 and 1984. He was an integral part of Illinois' Big Ten Champion 1983 team and 1984 Rose Bowl participant. The 1984 squad broke school records in scoring and total offense and he attended three bowl games during his four years as a starter. Juriga was Illinois' Big Ten Medal of Honor winner in 1986 and went on to spend six seasons in the NFL with the Denver Broncos after being drafted in the fourth round. Following his professional career, Juriga then attended Vet School and now runs his own clinic in St. Charles, Ill.

Scholar-Athlete Award: Brian Grzelakowski, fullback (3.73 GPA in business)

Scout Team Players of the Year: Walter Mendenhall, running back (offense); Sam Carson, linebacker (defense) and Steve Whitehill (special teams).

2004 Team Captains: Duke Preston, center; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback.


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