It's four, not three that's a magic number for the Illini and the New Orleans Saints on this final evening of the NFL
Draft. With the 243rd pick on Saturday (11 ahead of the infamous "Mr.
Irrelevant" pick) during the third day of the 2011 draft, the Saints
took Illinois Linebacker Nate Bussey
Yesterday, the Saints took fellow Illini linebacker Martez Wilson
in the third round (72nd overall) Bussey and Wilson will be the third
and fourth former Illini players on the Saints' roster. New Orleans
linebacker Danny Clark and running back Pierre Thomas also played at Illinois. If only they hadn't traded punter Steve Weatherford to the New York Jets, then they'd have five.
Illinois had four players selected in this year's draft. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget (first round, 18th, San Diego Chargers) and running back Mikel Leshoure (second round,
57th overall, Detroit Lions) were also drafted. It was the most NFL
picks Illinois has had in a draft since having five players go in 2003.
"It's going to be amazing playing with Martez again," Bussey said.
"We played together side-by-side the last couple of years at Illinois. I
consider him one of my brothers. We're really close."
And it will also be amazing to join Rejus (Benn) and Vontae (Davis)
in the NFL. Those guys always said we'd all go to the NFL and now my
dream has come true. It just proves that I'm worthy of playing at the
Bussey was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after having a
career year in 2010, finishing second on the team with 83 tackles and
third with 8.5 tackles for loss. He had a 16-yard interception return
for a touchdown at Penn State on Oct. 9 (ask any Illini fan and this is the first thing that comes to mind when you say his name), and recovered Big Ten-best three fumbles, broke up two passes and blocked a kick during his senior season.
Bussey spent his first two seasons at Illinois as a safety, seeing
most of his playing time on special teams before moving to outside
linebacker and starting 19 of 25 games during his final two seasons,
including all 13 as a senior.
On the flip side, his football IQ needs tremendous work, and he is too often prone to face-mask penalties.
Bussey recorded eight tackles and one tackle for a loss in Illinois'
win over Baylor in the Texas Bowl. That game ended up producing 7 NFL Draft picks over the past three days; not bad for a middle tier bowl game.
Bussey will likely fit in at special teams in NOLA. I asked him what first came to his mind when he heard the news.
"The first thing that came to my mind was being a New Orleans Saint
and playing under Coach Payton, and Coach Greg Williams and especially
Special Teams Coordinator Greg McMahon. Going in and playing with a guy
like Jonathan Vilma will be an amazing opportunity, especially when I
get to meet him," he responded.
"So getting around those guys will certainly help me, like Pierre
Thomas, an Illinois alumnus, Reggie Bush if he's still going to be
around and especially, especially Drew Brees. So getting to be around
all of them, getting to be on that practice field, I thought about all
of that and it was a big, big rush!"
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