The 90 Illini #26: Mike Epstein

Aug 3, 2021

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It's so crazy that there's a player who committed to Tim Beckman on the 2021 roster. Mike Epstein committed to Illinois on August 6, 2015. Someone remind me of this on Friday because it will be six years since Epstein committed. Then, three weeks later, Tim Beckman is fired a week before the season-opener. He recommitted to Bill Cubit, recommitted to Lovie Smith, and signed in February of 2017.

And now here we are in 2021. Committed to Beckman, committed to Cubit, played for Lovie, will play for Bielema. Four head coaches.

26. Mike Epstein

Running Back
Uniform number: 26
Year in school: Senior (1 year to play 1)
Height: 6'-0" -- Weight: 205 lbs.
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
High School: St. Thomas Aquinas HS
Five best offers: Michigan, UCLA, Utah, West Virginia, Louisville
Tom Cruise rating:

2020 statistics: Played in seven games, starting three. 69 carries for 367 yards and 4 touchdowns. Honorable mention All Big Ten.


What a long strange trip it's been.

Here's a bunch of stuff you've forgotten about. In the 2017, this is how TV announcers talked about Mike Epstein:

346 yards and four touchdowns in the first five games, but then a foot injury ends his season.

Then, during the BTN Bus Trip in the summer of 2018, care to guess which Illini player was on the side of the bus?

He then starts the 2018 season with 78 yards per game the first five games (on pace for 900-1000 yards rushing). And then, another foot injury shuts down his season for the second year in a row.

First game of the 2019 season? Tears his ACL. And it's his second ACL tear after tearing the other ACL his junior year of high school. There's "can't catch a break", and then there's four season-ending injuries across five football seasons.

Because of that, everyone writes him off. But the statistics are still there. Epstein had 367 yards rushing last season, good for 14th among Big Ten running backs in the shortened season. Chase Brown got 100 carries and Epstein got 70, so one might expect the same carry distribution this year. Epstein is 36th all-time on the Illinois rushing yards list, but because of the four injuries in five years thing, no one really even talks about him. Yet here's a running back in orange and blue who has averaged 6.04 yards per carry across his career. That's a big number

This offseason? You guessed it. He had another surgery to clean something up. And he was wavering between one more season and just moving on. He chose one more season, and now I'm ready to write the greatest redemption story in college football history.

2021 Outlook

Bret Bielema said during spring ball and Epstein was still making a decision. It was announced in early June that Epstein was returning. And in the next press opportunity, when Bielema addressed the issue, he said that just like any player who wasn't with them in the spring, he'd have to earn his opportunity for carries. I think that's a fairly typical "you go to the back of the line and will have to work your way up to the front again" coaching thing.

I'm not sure where he's at in his rehab, but I didn't see him on the field today. So I'm guessing they'll be taking it easy with him (which more or less describes the last four Illini training camps for him). This means we've now defined the 2021 season for Epstein. Back of the line and will have to earn his carries. Likely limited in camp, so won't get many carries to prove he deserves the ball once the season starts.

And then? 1,431 rushing yards and the best redemption story this side of Dre Brown.


nbc101 on August 4, 2021 @ 07:36 AM

The freshman year video also looks like a Kendrick Green highlight video. He will be missed.

DB50 on August 4, 2021 @ 12:39 PM

I so hope you're right Robert!

purcy51 on August 4, 2021 @ 03:52 PM

I for one have not forgotten about Epstein. Every year I pray he gets and stays healthy. Hope he has a breakout year, I'll be looking for that redemption post!

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