By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
December 23, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Ron Johnson/USA Today Sports)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The rushing yards leader among all Power Five Conference players has ended his college career.
Illinois tailback Chase Brown officially declared his intention to enter the 2023 National Football League Draft and has opted out of playing in the ReliaQuest Bowl against Mississippi State on Jan. 2. Brown’s 2022 season, which included being a finalist for the Doak Walker Ward - given to the nation’s best running back in college football, will end with 1,643 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in a season that saw the Illini improve to a 8-4 record and its first New Year’s Day bowl berth since 2007.
Brown is currently third among all Football Bowl Subdivision tailbacks in rushing yards this season as Brad Roberts’ 116-yard performance in Air Force’s 30-16 win over Baylor on Thursday saw him catapult to the top of the single-season rushing list with 1,728 yards.
Brown’s single-season total places him No. 3 on the Illinois all-time records chart behind only Mikel Leshoure (1,697 in 2010) and Rashard Mendenhall (1,681 yards in 2007). He broke the Illinois single-season record with 11 games of 100 yards or more this season and tied Robert Holcombe’s career mark between 1994-97 with 16 total games of 100 yards or more.
"Through the highs and lows, my time at Illinois has been the best experience of my life,” Brown said on social media when he made his announcement official. “I earned a degree, advanced as an athlete, and formed lifelong connections.”
Brown, who transferred after one season at Western Michigan in 2019, also leaves Champaign as the second-most prolific rusher in Illini history at 3,206 yards behind only Holcombe (4,105 yards).
“To my teammates: Thank you for pushing me every day. Our memories and bonds formed through highs and lows will last a lifetime. It has been a pleasure to play alongside each of you,” Brown wrote on social media. “To my coaches: Thank you for believing in me. Your dedication to excellence pushed me to become the player I am today. The life lessons and leadership skills you taught me have made me a better man.”
Brown becomes the fourth Illini player to opt out of the ReliaQuest Bowl joining his twin brother Sydney Brown, All-American cornerback Devon Witherspoon and tight end Luke Ford as members of the 2022 Illini roster not making the trip to Tampa, Fla.
The future of the Illini running back room will be shown in the ReliaQuest Bowl as Illinois expects to have Josh McCray, who missed all but three regular season games with two different lower-body injuries, second-leading rusher Reggie Love, freshmen Aidan Laughery and Jordan Anderson return for the 2023 season. Kaden Feagin, a four-star running back from Arthur, was the highest ranked signee this week to the Illini’s 2023 recruiting class.
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