Knee Injury Ends College Career For Illinois LB Jake Hansen 

Illinois sixth-year linebacker Jake Hansen announces the end of his college football career after undergoing knee surgery during open week.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

October 20, 2021

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Jake Hansen has put on an Illinois football jersey and helmet for the final time.

The sixth-year middle linebacker announced the end of his college football career on Wednesday afternoon after the 23-year-old confirmed he underwent knee surgery during open week following an injury in the 24-0 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 9.

Hansen suffered a lower-body injury that forced him to miss consecutive games (at Purdue and vs. Charlotte) but returned to the starting lineup for the Homecoming game against the Badgers.

“This week I underwent successful knee surgery and will miss the remainder of the season. It pains me to say that I will not play another game as an Illinois football player. I would like to thank everyone that has been a part of my journey as an Illini, especially my family, teammates, coaches, strength staff, athletic trainers, academic counselors, and fans,” Hansen said in a statement announcing his injury.

Hansen was the NCAA’s active career leader in forced fumbles with 12 and will end his college career ranking second in Illinois history, one behind Illini legend Simeon Rice’s career record of 13 forced fumbles. He led the nation in takeaways over the span of two seasons from 2019-20 (14), including leading the nation in forced fumbles in 2019 with seven. Hansen was an All-Big Ten second team selection by the media in 2020 after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2019. Hansen, who ended his Illinois career with 276 career tackles and 28.5 tackles for loss, announced his return to Illinois in March for the first season of new Illini head coach Bret Bielema by saying he and the super-senior teammates had “unfinished business” to accomplish in Champaign.

“I will look back at my time here with no regrets and will continue to cherish every moment I enjoyed here,” Hansen said via a written statement. “With that said I look forward to pursuing my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.”

Bielema teased this injury announcement during his Monday media conference by saying that Hansen would be out for an "extended period of time” and Illinois (2-5, 1-3 in Big Ten Conference) have only five games remaining in this 2021 season.

Hansen elected to return to Illinois as a sixth-year super-senior and was preseason All-American fourth team selection by Phil Steele along with also being presented with preseason All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors. Hansen is one of two Big Ten players since 2000 with two games of 10-plus tackles and two forced fumbles in the same season (2019), joining Chris Borland from Wisconsin who accomplished the feat in 2011 while being coached by Bielema.

In five games this season, Hansen has 32 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one sacks and two forced fumbles. In the games where Hansen hasn’t been in the middle of Ryan Walters odd-man front defense as one of the two inside linebackers, Illinois has relied on the combination play of junior Khalan Tolson and sophomore Tarique Barnes.

“Jake has been a great linebacker here and you’ve all seen the results he’s put up while also probably being the smartest football player I’ve ever played with,” Barnes said Wednesday before Hansen made his official announcement. “Being able to step up for him and then pass him has been the goal in my mind. I want to get better accolades than he got and win more than his team’s did here at Illinois.”

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