Illini CB Devon Witherspoon Named to Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalist List

Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon looking to be the Illini’s first defensive back to be named a first-team All-America selection since 1964.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

October 24, 2022

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Devon Witherspoon is one giant step closer to doing something no player at the University of Illinois has ever achieved.

The fourth-year junior cornerback was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award on Monday by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Jim Thorpe Association. The Jim Thorpe Award has been awarded annually to the best defensive back in college football since 1986 and no Illini player has taken home this trophy since the establishment of the honor.

“To have that small of a list right now is actually you know, pretty, pretty big accomplishment for a guy that I think preseason probably didn't have a lot of preseason hype, based off the work and production and the way we're playing, it's another great indicator of a lot of good things going on in our building,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said Monday.

In order to win the award, Witherspoon would likely need to be the first first-team All-America selections at cornerback since George Donnely in 1964. Kerby Joseph, who was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft by Detroit, was a second-team All-America selection by Pro Football Focus but before Joseph, the last second-team All-America selection from an Illini defensive backfield was Vontae Davis as a third-team All-America selection by Pro Football Weekly.

While No. 17 Illinois (6-1, 3-1 in Big Ten Conference) was in an open week last weekend, Witherspoon picked up midseason national honors by being named a midseason first-team All-America selection by PFF (1st Team) and a second-team selection by The Athletic (2nd Team). Pro Football Focus has Witherspoon, a 6-foot and 180-pound cornerback, as the highest graded cornerback in the nation this season after being tied for first nationally in forced incompletions with 13 and boasting a 31 percent reception percentage against, the No. 3 mark in the country and best in the Big Ten among cornerbacks.

“Spoon is one of those guys where his football IQ and awareness, I think is very, very high,” Bielema said earlier this season. “He’s going to tell you certain things and do certain things, but he really understands the game.”

Witherspoon is on the Senior Bowl preseason watch list and leads the nation in passes defended (12), while he and Jartavius Martin lead the nation in passes defended among teammates with 22 in the first seven weeks of this season.

Illinois will travel to Nebraska (3-4, 2-2 in Big Ten) for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday on ABC.

 

2022 Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalists

Trevon Flowers, Tennessee, Sr.

Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State, Jr.

Erick Hallett II, Pitt, Sr.

Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU, Jr.

Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M, Jr.

Clark Phillips III, Utah, So.

Joey Porter, Jr., Penn State, Jr.

Lathan Ransom, Ohio State, Jr.

Bentlee Sanders, Nevada, Sr.

Christopher Smith, Georgia, Sr.

Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State, Sr.

Devon Witherspoon, Illinois, Jr.

 

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