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.
IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular - March 17 Weekend (S2,Ep31)Read
I on the Illini - Illini Bounced out of the NCAA Tourney by Arkansas #233Read
I on the Illini - Illini Women Bounced out of NCAA Tourney by Miss State #232Read
Watch: Illini's Coleman Hawkins & Terrence Shannon Jr. take questions at NCAA tournament pregame presserRead
You Tube - I on the Illini - Illini vs Arkansas NCAA Preview #231Read
I on the Illini - Illini vs Arkansas NCAA Preview #231Read
Watch: Illini coach Shauna Green's pregame Mississippi State NCAA presserRead
Watch: Illini's Kendall Bostic & Makira Cook in NCAA Mississippi State pregame presserRead
I on the Illini - IlliniGuys NCAA Tourney 2023 Preview #230Read
Watch: Illini men's basketball players react to NCAA tournament selectionRead
IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular - March 10 Weekend (S2,Ep30)Read
I on the Illini - Early Big Ten Tourney Exit #229Read
You Tube - I on the Illini - Big Ten Tourney Preview #228Read
I on the Illini - Big Ten Tourney Preview #228Read
Watch: Illini coach Underwood preview Big Ten opener vs. Penn StateRead