The 90 Illini #19: Khalan Tolson

Aug 9, 2021

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Here's a thing that's probably not technically a thing but we should think of it as a thing: I believe Khalan Tolson has started his last 10 games across two seasons. We don't think of him as "has been entrenched in the starting lineup since November of 2019", but that's the reality.

For whatever reason - Tarique Barnes' breakout game against Wisconsin, Bret Bielema adding Calvin Hart from NC State - I don't think there are any "could Tolson be our best defensive player by the end of the year?" discussions out there. I have him at 19th here, so obviously, I'm not saying he's our best defensive player, but I've been having these "Tolson isn't talked about enough" thoughts this summer and I need to write them out.

  • Linebacker with Michigan/Michigan State offers picks Illinois.
  • Plays right away (mostly special teams) as a true freshman and has 5 total tackles.
  • Plays a little more as a true sophomore. 5 tackles in the first nine games.
  • Then, before the 10th game, Jake Hansen is injured, so Tolson starts the final four games in 2019. 33 tackles in those four games (8.2 tackles per game) plus that huge fumble recovery at Michigan State.
  • In 2020, he starts next to Hansen. 7.4 tackles per game the first five games and then in the sixth game, oof, an injury against Iowa and his season is over.

We probably don't talk about that Iowa game enough, either. What was it, five defensive starters going down with injuries during the game? Dropped like flies. That was the end of my "injuries are freak accidents and can't be prevented" stance because if you lose five of eleven guys in one (very physical) game, it's something.

Anyway, that's 10 consecutive games started by Tolson. Now he's cleared from the injury and back at 100%. We should talk about him more.

19. Khalan Tolson

Uniform number: 45
Year in school: Junior (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 1; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 2)
Height: 6'-0" -- Weight: 235 lbs.
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
High School: Admiral Farragut Academy
Five best offers: Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Pitt
Tom Cruise rating:

2020 statistics: Played in 6 games, starting all six (missed the final two games with an injury). 39 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 2 QBH, 2 PBU.


OK so these sections will probably be short because I already wrote out so much of this at the top. So I guess I'll note random stories about his background.

One, and this isn't fair to him or his dad, but the main memory I have of Tolson his freshman year was his dad going after Lovie in 2018 saying "play my son". Probably wasn't a bad idea - that defense was 128th out of 130 teams and needed to try something - but it's never going to go over well, in high school or college, when a parent goes public with a depth chart demand. Didn't hate it, though. The defense was spiraling mid-2018 and something needed to change (in the end, it was Hardy Nickerson out the door in late October).

Two, I think it should be noted that Khalan Tolson and Bobby Roundtree were very tight. I believe they grew up playing on the same youth teams in the St. Petersburg area. I want to say that Tolson picked Illinois because of Bobby, but I can't find that anywhere in print. With the tragic loss of Bobby, Tolson will be playing with a heavy heart this season. So many of these players will. We can't forget that.

2021 Outlook

With Shammond Cooper moving to OLB, I believe there are four players in the mix for minutes at the two inside linebacker spots: Jake Hansen, Khalan Tolson, Tarique Barnes, and CJ Hart Jr. I should probably add former walkon Alec McEachern to that list. He was put on scholarship this spring, and when a guy gets put on scholarship, it means he'll likely play. So let's call it five linebackers battling for two spots. Six if we include The Dark Angel.

It's my belief that the two linebackers who will come out on top in that battle are Jake Hansen and Khalan Tolson. Which is why I have Tolson at #19 here. He's on my depth chart as the starter next to Hansen and will remain there up until the opener. 10 straight starts, then two games missed because of an injury, so I'm claiming he's a two-year starter going on a third year in the starting lineup until someone takes the spot from him.


Nashvegas Illini on August 9, 2021 @ 10:07 AM

I was wondering if anyone would bring up the injuries in relation to the training staff. Lovie basically took away all live hitting from summer camp to try and keep the team health. But we can look at injuries all the way back to Beckham time.

In your opinion, is there something that can be done?

Groundhogday on August 9, 2021 @ 09:02 PM

Can any of the LBs play CB? (Just kidding, kind of.)

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