(From University of Illinois Sports Information Office)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Fighting Illini named four captains for the 2022 football season: Tarique Barnes, Sydney Brown, Alex Palczewski, and Isaiah Williams. The captains were determined following a player vote.
Palczewski was a team captain in 2019, while Barnes, Brown, and Williams are serving as captains for the first time in their collegiate careers.
The 2022 season will be Barnes' fourth year in Champaign, and he was named a captain after a breakout 2021 campaign.
He says he's still processing the news, but he says the opportunity to be a captain "holds a lot of weight to me."
"It's a great feeling," Barnes said. "To know that my teammates trust me with that role, with that title, it's better than almost anything I could ask for at this moment right now."
Barnes made 10 starts at linebacker last year and recorded 80 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles, all of which were career-high marks. The Memphis native also registered an interception in Illinois' upset road win over No. 20 Minnesota.
After landing on Phil Steele's All-Big Ten fourth team last season, Barnes heads into this year as a first-time captain and a commanding force on the Illini defense.
"I'm really just trying to continue to make sure I'm staying worthy of (my teammates' choice), and leading us in the right way, and taking us to big things," Barnes said.
Brown is in his fifth year at Illinois with 39 career starts under his belt, and he started all 12 games during the 2021 season.
The London, Ontario, native led the Illini in tackles last year with 81, while he also recorded 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, and three pass breakups. He forced a career-high two fumbles in 2021, which tied for the most on the team and fifth-most in the Big Ten.
Brown heads into the 2022 campaign on Athlon Sports' preseason All-Big Ten second team after earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from Big Ten coaches and media in 2021.
The fifth-year senior is grateful for the recognition from his teammates, and it has caused him to reflect on everything he's been through throughout his football career. Though he now has the honor of being a captain, he says he is going to "keep doing what I'm doing."
"It's an honor, and I look at this as an opportunity," Brown said. "I'm going to approach this day by day, making sure that I'm the best version of myself each day for the guys. I'm excited for the opportunity."
Palczewski enters his sixth season with the Illini having already made 52 career starts, which is tied for a program record and ranks first among all active FBS players.
Named an All-Big Ten honorable mention by both conference coaches and media last year, Palczewski heads into the 2022 season on Athlon Sports' preseason All-Big Ten third team.
The Mount Prospect native started all 12 games in 2021, splitting time between tackle and guard. After serving as a captain in 2019, Palczewski will return to the captain role in his final season in Champaign.
"It means the world," Palczewski said. "The biggest thing is that it was voted on by my teammates. It wasn't just elected by the coaches. It means that I've gained the trust of all the guys around me to be voted captain. It means a world to be able to help lead these guys."
Palczewski says the emotions of being named a captain are much different from the emotions he felt in 2019, when he was named a captain for the first time. Now in his sixth season and having gone through multiple serious injuries, he says the opportunity is unique.
"It was so different," Palczewski said. "In 2019, it was awesome to be voted, but the events that have happened since then have been wild. I tore my ACL, tore my Lisfranc, and to be able to battle back from that. I thought I was done. I thought I had finished my Illinois collegiate career.
"To be able to come back here for one more year and regain my confidence, regain who I am as a player means the world."
Williams heads into his fourth campaign at Illinois after a standout sophomore season in 2021. In his first year at wide receiver after switching from quarterback, Williams led the Illini in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
Despite the position change last year, Williams says it is "a testament to hard work, dedication, and faith" that he's looked at as a leader.
"It means a lot," Williams said. "It just means guys on his team look at me as a leader, a guy that's shown them the way, and that's very important to me. Being that guy, it shows me that I need to be the one to set an example every single day."
The St. Louis native notched 525 receiving yards, which ranked 15th in the Big Ten, while his 47 receptions was the 13th-best mark in the conference. Those 47 receptions were the third-most among Power-5 freshmen.
Williams also recorded a team-best four receiving touchdowns last season, which he finished with two rushing scores. He was named to Athlon Sports' preseason All-Big Ten fourth team and is the first Illini receiver to be named a team captain since Steve Hull in 2013.
The four captains will lead Illinois on Aug. 27 in the Week Zero season opener against Wyoming at Memorial Stadium.
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