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Who's on the Mount Rushmore of Illinois football?

Jun. 8—Who are the four greatest football players in Illinois history? The ones who would carve out status on a Mount Rushmore? With the season two months away, we'll start the debate and continue it the rest of the summer for every Big Ten team. But first, we'll tackle the ones who initially made a name for themselves with their exploits in Champaign:

➜ A 1979 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and 1983 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Butkus is considered one of the best linebackers to ever play.

➜ He starred on the 1963 Illini team that went 8-1-1, won a Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl, compiling 145 tackles along the way for coach Pete Elliott's team.

➜ Finished sixth in the 1963 Heisman Trophy voting and third in the voting for college football's most prestigious trophy a year later.

➜ Butkus cemented his reputation during nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, earning six First Team All-NFL honors along the way.

➜ The honor given, since 1985, to college football's best linebacker every season? Aptly named the Butkus Award.

➜ Had a 12-foot, 1,000-pound bronze statue of him unveiled outside the Smith Center in Champaign in 2019.

➜ A 2018 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Howard emerged as one of the Big Ten's best linebackers during his four seasons at Illinois from 1991-94.

➜ The East St. Louis native made at least 147 tackles each season for the Illini, registering 147 as a freshman, 150 as a sophomore, 148 as a junior and 150 again as a senior.

➜ His 595 tackles are the most in school history — runner-up John Sullivan has 501 — and was a Big Ten record at the end of his college career.

➜ Howard won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994, becoming the first Big Ten player to do so in consecutive seasons.

➜ Finished his final season at Illinois with one of his best, winning the Butkus Award in 1994.

➜ Famously guaranteed Illinois would win at Ohio State in 1994 and then helped deliver a 24-10 victory.

➜ Arguably the first national star of college football, the "Galloping Ghost" and the "Wheaton Iceman" became a household name in the 1920s.

➜ His breakthrough moment happened against Michigan on Oct. 18, 1924 during Memorial Stadium's dedication game in Champaign when Grange led the Illini past the Wolverines 39-14.

➜ Grange scored six touchdowns against Michigan that day, doing so on a 95-yard kickoff return, along with rushes of 67, 56, 44 and 11 yards and a 20-yard TD pass.

➜ A consensus three-time All-American with the Illini from 1923-25, Grange gave the NFL legitimacy when he signed with the Bears shortly after his college career.

➜ A charter member of both the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

➜ Had a 12-foot, 2,000-pound bronze statue of him unveiled on the west side of Memorial Stadium in 2009.

➜ No one got after the quarterback wearing an Illini uniform better than Rice, who used his athleticism and strength to compile 44 1/2 sacks in four seasons.

➜ The 44 1/2 sacks are still an Illinois record — runner-up Scott Davis had 23 from 1983-87 — and are still a Big Ten record nearly three decades since the Chicago native last suited up for the Illini.

➜ Won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1992 before becoming a First Team All-American pick in his final two seasons in 1994 and 1995.

➜ Posted three seasons of at least nine sacks — school-record 16 in 1994, 11 1/2 in 1995 and nine in 1992. No one else has done that in Illinois history.

➜ Parlayed his successful Illinois career into becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

➜ Finished his 12-season NFL career with 122 sacks, good for 20th all-time, and won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.