Asamoah, Bizzarri Garner Top Honor at Fighting Illini Scholar-Athlete Reception
May 3, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Football star Jon Asamoah (Park Forest, Ill.) and cross country and track national champion Angela Bizzarri (Mason, Ohio) took home the prestigious Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor Monday night at the Fighting Illini Scholar-Athlete Awards Reception, held at the Colonnades Club at Memorial Stadium. The Scholar-Athlete Reception is an annual event that recognizes graduating student-athletes and others that have excelled both athletically and academically.
The Medal of Honor is awarded annually at each conference school to a male and female senior student-athlete who demonstrates proficiency in scholarship and athletics. The award was first endowed in 1914 and has become the top annual award the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics bestows. Asamoah and Bizzarri were just two of over 120 Fighting Illini student-athletes, managers and athletic trainers recognized at the 20th annual event that honors the best and the brightest that Illinois athletics has to offer.
Asamoah is the second football player to earn the Medal of Honor in the last three years, joining J Leman, who was honored in 2008. Asamoah, a four-year starting offensive guard, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 and part of an offensive line that finished in the top-20 in rushing offense three times in his four seasons. In 2006 and 2007 the Illinois offensive line led the Big Ten in rushing, topped the league in passing in 2008 and finished second in the conference in rushing in 2009. The Park Forest, Ill., native also twice earned All-America honors, second-team by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly. In April, the Kansas City Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Even more impressive than his accomplishments on the field, however, is Asamoah's involvement with the community and success in the classroom. He is very involved in the Illini Leadership Academy and Illinois' Hometown Heroes program, which includes visits to local elementary schools and senior centers. Asamoah also was selected to participate in the NCAA Student-Athlete Development Conference in 2008. In the classroom, Asamoah earned a bachelor's degree in applied health sciences/community health in December 2009 and is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and Dean's List member. He also was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and Academic All-District in 2009, and earned the Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award, given to a male and female letterwinner with the highest grade-point average in each class of school.
Football coach Ron Zook said this of Asamoah, "Jon was a phenomenal member of the Illini football team during his four years at the University of Illinois. Not only was he an exceptional talent on the field, but his character is unmatched. He was always a strong leader on the team, and while quiet in his demeanor, Jon commanded respect of his teammates."
Bizzarri is the second track athlete to earn the Medal of Honor in the last four years, joining Yvonne Mensah in 2007. Bizzarri's accomplishments speak for themselves and include three NCAA national titles and nine All-America accolades between track and cross country. She was the first Illini women to win a cross country national title in school history and was named the National Cross Country Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and the Honda Sports Award for cross country. Bizzarri owns seven school records and has twice been named the Dike Eddleman Award winner as the University of Illinois Female Athlete of the Year. In 2009, she also was a finalist for the AAU Sullivan Award, given to the nation's top amateur athlete.
Bizzarri is also very active off the field, volunteering regularly at Provena and Carle Hospital in their respective dialysis and physical therapy units. She is very involved in Illinois' Hometown Heroes program, which included helping with the Special Spectators event for children undergoing treatment at Carle Hospital, a reading night at Robeson Elementary School, volunteering at the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival and assisting with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Holiday Party. She will earn a degree in molecular and cellular biology next fall and has received much acclaim for her academic prowess, as she was named the 2009 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for cross country, a second-team Academic All-American by ESPN the Magazine and Academic All-Big Ten five times during her career.
Distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen spoke highly of Bizzarri, "Angela is one of the most impressive cross country and track and field athletes to come through the Big Ten and NCAA, but she is even a more impressive person. Her passion to make others around her better is contagious and inspiring. Angela is not the most vocal leader on her team, but she leads the team by her drive, work ethic and attention to details. She makes those around her better and that has shown by how her cross country team has preformed over her career."
The Fighting Illini Spirit Awards, which are given to the male and female athletes who best exemplify the spirit, courage, effort and dedication of the Fighting Illini, were also handed out at the Colonnades Club. Quarterback Juice Williams (Chicago, Ill.) and gymnast Luke Stannard (Waukegan, Ill.) shared the male Spirit Award, while senior tennis player Megan Fudge (Kaarst, Germany) took home the female Spirit Award this year.
The men's cross country team and women's swimming & diving teams were recognized for having the top team GPAs among Illinois' 19 varsity sports, and six individuals were honored for having the top GPA in their respective classes. Hunter Mickow (Princeton, Ill.) of cross country/track & field and swimmer April McKee (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) had the top GPAs among sophomores, tennis player Abe Souza (St. Louis, Mo.) and swimmer Ann Miller (Columbia, Md.) were best among juniors, and Asamoah and Stephanie Baliga (Rockford, Ill.) of cross country/track & field were the senior GPA honorees.
In addition to the awards handed out, finalists for the Dike Eddleman Male and Female Athlete of the Year Awards and Newcomer of the Year Awards were also announced. The Eddleman and Newcomer Award winners will not be announced until the conclusion of the spring sports seasons in June. See the below for a full list of nominees and award winners from the evening.
Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year Finalists
Fighting Illini Newcomer of the Year
Fighting Illini Spirit Award
Fighting Illini Outstanding Team GPA Awards
Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award Winners