Three Illini selected on Final Day of NFL Draft
April 27, 2013
New York - Former Fighting Illini defensive players Akeem Spence, Terry Hawthorne and Michael Buchanan all had their names called at the NFL Draft on Saturday, the final day of the three-day event. Spence didn't have to wait long on Saturday, going as the third pick of the day in round four (100th overall) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hawthorne was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in round five (150th overall), while Buchanan had to wait until the New England Patriots selected him the seventh round (226th overall).
With four overall players drafted, one in the third round on Friday (Hugh Thornton to Indianapolis) and three on Saturday, the Illini had more 2013 draft picks than any other Big Ten team. It marks the fourth straight year that four Illinois players have been selected.
Illinois NFL Draft Facts:
All three Illini defensive players drafted on Saturday had decorated careers in the Orange and Blue. During their careers, the trio helped lead the Fighting Illini to back-to-back bowl wins in 2010 (Texas Bowl) and 2011 (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), a feat that had never been accomplished at Illinois previously, and all three were instrumental on the 2011 UI defensive unit that finished the season ranked seventh nationally in total defense.
Spence declared early for the draft, forgoing his senior season to turn pro. After redshirting in 2009, Spence started every game of his Illinois career, making 38 consecutive starts over the last three seasons. The Fort Walton Beach, Fla., native was third on the team with 72 tackles and tied for second with 7.0 TFLs in 2012, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors for his effort. For his career, Spence totaled 186 tackles, 16.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. He earned a bachelor's degree from Illinois in December 2012, graduating in three and a half years. He is the third Illini drafted by Tampa Bay in the last five years (OL Xavier Fulton in 2009 and WR Arrelious Benn in 2010).
"I'm happy to be a Buc," Spence said of being drafted by Tampa Bay. "When I got the phone call from Coach Schiano and he said they were trading up to take me, I screamed and jumped around like a kid. It'll be a thrill playing at the next level in my home state just a couple hours away from my friends and family. I couldn't ask for anything more.
"At Illinois, I was around some great guys, great players and had a great position coach in Coach (Keith) Gilmore," Spence continued. "He helped transform me into the man I am today."
Hawthorne was a staple in the Illini defensive backfield for the last four years. We was two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and was named Defensive MVP of the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after a second-half pick-six that gave the Illini the lead. For his career, the East St. Louis, Ill., native totaled 163 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 22 passes defended, six interceptions, two pick-sixes, one sack and one forced fumble. He also spent some time as a return man, returning 18 kickoffs for 347 yards (19.3 ypr) and eight punts for 46 yards (5.8 ypr) during his UI career.
Buchanan started all 12 games in 2012 and made 32 career starts over the last three years. During his senior season, he led the Fighting Illini in sacks (4.5) and QB hurries (5) and ranked second on the team in tackles for loss (7.0) and passes defended (6), a total that ranked in the top-10 nationally among defensive linemen. For his career, the Homewood-Flossmoor, Ill., native was a two-time second-team All-Big Ten honoree and totaled 161 tackles, 26 TFLs, 14 sacks, nine passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
For complete 2013 Illini draft coverage, visit Illinois NFL Draft Central.