Chicago Colleges: 2012 NFL draft

Colts tab NIU's Harnish as Mr. Irrelevant

April, 29, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Mr. Irrelevant suddenly has a whole new meaning for Chandler Harnish.

The Northern Illinois quarterback who was taken with the 253rd and final pick of the draft Saturday didn't just get a title and a vacation. He got a chance to play for his favorite NFL team and potentially to be a backup for Andrew Luck.

[+] EnlargePaul Salata, Mr. Irrelevant
AP Photo/Alix DrawecThe Colts made N. Illinois quarterback and Indiana native Chandler Harnish the new Mr. Irrelevant.
First, he'll make the trip to Disneyland, appear in the Irrelevant Week parade in Newport Beach, Calif., and put his Colts license plate back on his car. Hey, it's OK -- he's an Indiana native.

"I'm happy to be wanted by a team and I'm happy to be an Indianapolis Colt because that's been my favorite team all the way through," he told local reporters on a conference call shortly after the selection was announced.

For the Colts and the NFL, it was a historic first.

Read the entire story here.
Illinois set a school record by having four players selected in the first two rounds of this year’s NFL draft.

Illinois senior offensive lineman Jeff Allen and senior safety Tavon Wilson became the third and fourth Illini players taken in the draft on Friday. Allen was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round as the No. 44 overall pick. Wilson was taken by the New England Patriots in the second round as the No. 48 pick.

In the first round on Thursday, defensive end Whitney Mercilus went to the Houston Texas as the No. 26 pick and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 30th pick.

Illinois hadn’t previously had more than two players selected in the first two rounds.

“It means a lot,” Allen said of the four draft picks. “We’ve always had talent. We’ve had great players taken in the draft. To have four players in the first two rounds is unbelievable. It’s something you can’t describe. I’m just so happy for all my teammates right now.”

Allen, who attended King High School in Chicago, will join former Illinois teammate Jon Asamoah on the Chiefs’ offensive line. Asamoah was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round in 2010 and started 16 games for them last season.

Wilson had 81 tackles, including 51 solo, and one interception last season for Illinois.

The Illini had four players taken in the draft last year. Three of those picks came in the first three rounds.

Illini's Dimke waiting for his NFL chance

April, 24, 2012
Illinois senior Derek Dimke is considered by many analysts to be among the top-5 prospects at his position leading up to this week’s NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeDerek Dimke
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIDerek Dimke connected on 39 of 46 field goal for Illinois last season.
If Dimke played quarterback, safety or almost anywhere on the field, he would be guaranteed to hear his name being called at some point over the three-day draft, which begins on Thursday. But because Dimke is a kicker, there’s a chance he may go undrafted despite being one of the premier college players at his position.

Such is a life of a kicker, and Dimke gets it.

“For a kicker, it’s a little bit different than other positions,” Dimke said by phone on Sunday. “There’s a lot of great kickers out there, and there’s only one kicker on a team. It’s a matter of performing at the right place and at the right time and being patient.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen (in the draft). I’ve talked to a lot of teams. A lot of teams have showed interest, and I’m getting positive feedback.”

What has attracted teams to Dimke is his kicking accuracy from every distance. He was 39-of-46 in field goals and 89-of-89 in extra points during his three seasons starting for the Illini. He was 15-of-17 from 30-39 yards, 10-of-13 from 40-49 yards and 2-of-3 from 50 yards and beyond. His career long was 52 yards as a junior against Missouri.

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Illinois' Allen wants to blaze new NFL trail

April, 20, 2012
Chicago’s King High School has always been touted for its basketball history.

[+] EnlargeJeff Allen
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIllinois' Jeff Allen is projected to be selected in the second round of the NFL draft by Mel Kiper.
From Marcus Liberty to Rashard Griffith to Leon Smith to Thomas Hamilton to Jamie Brandon to Imari Sawyer, the list of basketball stars to come through the Chicago South Side school has been plentiful.

King’s football program is a different story. It isn’t nearly as known, but Jeff Allen plans to change that.
Allen, who graduated from King in 2008 and started four years on the offensive line at Illinois, is expected to be selected somewhere in the opening rounds of the NFL draft next week.

“We have had some decent players from our high school program go onto college,” Allen said of King. “We just haven’t had any great players. That would be an honor for me. We’ve had some great players throughout time, but they obviously played basketball. To be included in the same sentence with them would be an honor.”

Always one of the bigger kids growing up, Allen gravitated toward football at an early age. His dreams of the NFL started not too long after he began playing when he was 9 years old.

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Draft position no concern for NIU's Wedige

April, 20, 2012
Scott WedigeScott Walstrom, NIU Media ServicesScott Wedige was a two-time first team All-MAC conference selection at center for Northern Illinois.
The NFL is filled with players who failed to hear their name called on draft weekend. The Bears alone last summer broke training camp with five undrafted rookie free agents on their 53-man roster.

So the stigma of possibly going undrafted in a few weeks does not bother former Northern Illinois center Scott Wedige, who some teams still might view as a potential late-round selection.

"I had a chance to train not too long ago for a few days with Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem, who also played his college ball at Northern," Wedige said before a recent workout at Breakaway Athletics in Barrington. "I mean, Jeff Saturday went undrafted out of North Carolina and made what, five Pro Bowls? Saturday told me it's all about finding the right fit. He got lucky and look what happened.

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It was impossible for quarterback Chandler Harnish to keep a low profile the past four years at Northern Illinois. The 2011 MAC Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Harnish amassed 11,927 yards of total offense -- the third-highest total in conference history behind Byron Leftwich and former Bears draft choice Dan LeFevour -- and 92 touchdowns (68 passing, 24 rushing) during his career with the Huskies. In 2011, the quarterback threw for 3,216 yards, 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while also rushing for 1,379 yards and 11 scores.

[+] EnlargeNorthern Illinois' Chandler Harnish
Andrew Weber/US PresswireNorthern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011.
But Harnish sounds content to stay out of the spotlight on draft weekend.

"My agent [Cliff Brady] gave me some real sound advice," Harnish said. "He told me not to have a big draft party. Being that I'm a guy projected to be a late-round pick, it's just not a good idea. He's seen it before where guys have these big parties at their house, and then they don't even get drafted. I'm going to be very low key."

Harnish began the draft process by playing in the East-West Shrine game in January before traveling to Indianapolis for the NFL combine the following month. He has been working out at NIU throwing to receivers since the Huskies held their pro day on campus in early March.

Harnish recently made an official visit to the Seattle Seahawks.

"It's kind of been a hectic process, but it's been a great experience," Harnish said. "Nobody really knows exactly where they are going to end up, so it's a kind of an inexact science. I don't get too caught up in the number of visits because sometimes that doesn't matter. I just tried to put my best foot forward whenever I met with all the teams at the combine and pro days. At the end of the day, I 'm proud of myself and feel good about my performance on the field and in the interview rooms."

Whenever a quarterback enjoys great success at the collegiate level in a spread offense, there will usually be questions about his ability to transition to a more traditional NFL offense. For Harnish, the trick will be finding the right system to fit his style of play.

"I think being an athletic quarterback coming out of college is something I could definitely use to my advantage because the NFL’s changing, and quarterbacks are being able to move out of the pocket more and more and that’s a good trend for me," Harnish said. "But again, I still need to show that I can make the throws and do the things from under center and the different dropbacks to prove that I can play in this league."

Illini WR Jenkins' draft stock rising

April, 18, 2012
A.J. JenkinsAP Photo/Tom OlmscheidMel Kiper Jr. has Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins going to Jacksonville in the second round of his mock draft.
Wide receivers Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright stole the headlines at the NFL combine two months ago, but Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins has seen his draft rise in recent weeks, to the point where ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes Jenkins will be an early second-round pick.

Kiper has Jenkins going to Jacksonville at No. 38 in his latest mock draft.

"I've been on a world tour, man," Jenkins said in a phone interview with "I traveled to Baltimore, Jacksonville, Kansas City and San Francisco all in the span of a week, and I've got future visits coming up with the Titans, Panthers and Rams."

When he hasn't been on the road, Jenkins can be found training in Champaign where he continues to work toward his degree. A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Jenkins led the Illini with 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns, including a monster performance versus Northwestern when he hauled in 12 passes for 228 yards and three scores.

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