With spring practice set to begin next week, Illinois has lost a defensive starter.
Senior Houston Bates, who started all 12 games last season at defensive end, is leaving the team and will look to transfer to a school near his home of Covington, La., the school announced Friday. Because he will graduate in May, Bates would be immediately eligible to play elsewhere.
"Houston is a terrific and bright young man, who was a great teammate on our football team," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said in an official statement. "We certainly would have liked to have Houston remain on the team, but he indicated that he wanted to finish closer to home and his family."
Bates played linebacker in 2012 before moving to defensive end last season. He was second on the team in tackles for loss with 12 and in sacks with 3.5. He had 40 total tackles.
The Illini now will be without both starting defensive ends from a year ago, as Tim Kynard was a senior. That's not great news for a team that finished 11th in the Big Ten in total defense and last in rush defense. Junior college transfer Joe Fotu is expected to provide some immediate help at defensive end, and the Illini are hoping another juco import, Jihad Ward, makes a big impact inside on the defensive line.