Given that they are/were both Illinois Fighting Illini,
wore the same jersey number, played the same position, and didn't break
out until their junior year (and when they broke out, they really did
it in style) it's inevitable to compare current Illini tailback Mikel
Leshoure to current Pittsbrugh Steelers star running back Rashard
Heck, I wrote a column about it in October.
And after Leshoure's huge, record-setting game in the Texas Bowl,
more people are making the analogy. Leshoure was even asked the question
Wednesday night, in the post-game press conference. Both are local
products. Leshoure is from Champaign (Centenniel h.s.) and Mendenhall is
from suburban Skokie (Niles West h.s.).
"It would definitely be a compliment. To start things off, the
accomplishments that he's had and the success he's having now. He was a
great back and he's continued to get better. Hopefully I can do the same
thing and follow in his footsteps to make my name known in the NFL," he said.
So then the million dollar question is, will he follow Mendenhall's
lead and leave early for the NFL after his breakout junior season?
"I haven't got to that yet or decided what I'm going to do," he answered. Meaning we won't know for awhile yet.
Leshoure finished the 2010 season with a bang, recording 184 rushing
yards and 21 receiving yards for a total of 205 all-purpose yards. In
Illinois' last five games, he racked up 1,011 all-purpose yards and 13
touchdowns. He finishes second on Illinois' single-season all-purpose
yardage record list with 1,893 yards, behind only Mendenhall's 1,999
yards in 2007. Leshoure's 29 carries also give him 281 carries this
season, second-most in school history behind Robert
He also broke the single season rushing record, the points scored in a
season record and became the first Illini to ever score 20 TDs in one
Head Coach Ron Zook talked about Leshoure's special night, and special career.
"I've been through a lot with Mikel. His mother has done a great job
raising him. I love seeing him like this because I know what it does to
her and how happy it makes her. To see him grow up to be a great
football player, but also a great person, that's why you're in this
business. You get to see men reach their goals. That's what we're
doing," Zook said.
Leshoure gave a lot of the credit for his accomplishments to his fullback Jay Prosch.
"I've been waiting for that question. FB Jay (Prosch), aka Killer,
he is incredible. A true freshman. The coaches get after him at practice
and they stay on his case. He's like me. He holds his composure and he
does his job. He knows what he's in the offense for and he knows what
he's in there to do. He's there to pound some guys and make holes for me
and the other running backs. He accepts that. He's not selfish doesn't
complain about his job. He's a great kid and has a great future. This is
just a little showcase of what you're going to see in the future,"
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular weekly segment on chicagolandsportsradio.com
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