Prairie State Pigskin Notebook: 14 sign as NFL free agents; administrative change at Southern Illinois

Prairie State Pigskin Notebook: 14 sign as NFL free agents; administrative change at Southern Illinois
Lincoln Way North High School alum Austin Olsen (75) has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals. (photo courtesy of

With this past weekend’s NFL Draft officially over, 14 former Illinois FCS players have signed contracts as undrafted free agents.

Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois each had four players sign as free agents, and while Illinois State had “only” two players, the Redbirds were the lone team to have a player drafted (DB Davontae Harris, fifth round by Cincinnati).

These 14 can take heart in the fact that a year ago linebacker Chase Allen signed as a free agent out of SIU. The Belleville East High School product wound up not only making the Miami Dolphins roster but also found himself in the starting lineup on a few occasions.

Three years ago, Cam Meredith signed with the Chicago Bears after not being drafted. The St. Joseph High School/Illinois State graduate recently signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. While Meredith missed last season with an injury, the Saints’ confidence in the wide receiver is based on his 2016 season in which he caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns.

Here’s this year’s list:

EIU Panthers

LS A.J. Hantak, New Orleans Saints

DB Tray Mitchell, New Orleans Saints

DE Mack Weaver, Green Bay Packers

FS Bradley Dewberry, Washington Redskins

SIU Salukis

CB Craig James, Minnesota Vikings

OT Austin Olsen, Arizona Cardinals

OT Devondre Seymour, Kansas City Chiefs

FS Ryan Neal, Philadelphia Eagles

WIU Leathernecks

WR Jaelon Acklin, Baltimore Ravens

OL Jacob Judd, New Orleans Saints

DB David Griffith, Los Angeles Chargers

LB Brett Taylor, Minnesota Vikings

ISU Redbirds

DT Dalton Keene, Los Angeles Rams

WR Christian Gibbs, Cleveland Browns

Change in SIU athletic department

Southern Illinois University announced last week that former Saluki football coach Jerry Kill, the special assistant to the chancellor, will oversee the athletic department. The news came on the heels of SIU’s decision not to renew the contract of athletic director Tommy Bell.

According to a story in The Southern Illinoisian, Kill is not the interim athletic director, but is adding to his duties.

“It’s time for us to make a change in leadership that will help the program fulfill its potential,” SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful for Tommy’s service and wish him well for the future.”

Bell’s contract officially expires May 31. Previously he served as the athletic director at Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne.

Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill

Kill, who led the Salukis to five consecutive NCAA playoff appearances between 2003-07, returned to SIU in March as an ambassador for the university. A member of SIU’s Hall of Fame, Kill went 55-32 from 2001-07, winning three straight Gateway Conference titles. He won two national coaching honors during that span.

Kill left Southern to take the head coaching position at Northern Illinois in 2010. He departed DeKalb to coach at Minnesota from 2011-15. He was named the 2014 Big 10 Coach of the Year, sent three teams to bowl games and produced six NFL draft picks.

Kill retired from coaching while at Minnesota because of health reasons and became an administrator at Kansas State in 2016. He then returned to coaching at Rutgers in 2017 before resigning in December.

“I sweat, bled at this place. I owe the place, because I went a lot of good places because of here,” Kill said last week’s press conference in Carbondale. “It’s a tough time right now, but people don’t realize it was tough when we came in here. We had issues with the campus, this and that. You start winning, everybody forgets that.”

According to the The Southern Illinoisian story by Todd Hefferman, Montemagno said he has not yet established a timeframe for Kill’s new role and anticipates that Kill will oversee the athletics program for the immediate future. A permanent athletic director will be selected through a national search sometime in the future. Whether Kill would be a part of that search, or a candidate, remains unclear.


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