Greatest Running Backs In Illinois History Has Hall Of Fame Ring


July 10, 2008

The final position to be recognized with its 10 best players is led by perhaps the greatest player in collegiate football history. Harold 'Red' Grange is often credited with being the first national football superstar and has been honored as the game's best-ever player. The remainder of the running back group is made up of some of the most well-known players in Fighting Illini history. Record-setting 2007 Big Ten Player of the Year Rashard Mendenhall is the latest in a long line of great runners.

Joining those two on the list are hard-running Jim Grabowski, who finished third in the 1965 Heisman Trophy voting and Howard Griffith, who set an NCAA record with eight rushing touchdowns in a game in 1990. Robert Holcombe is Illinois¹ all-time leading rusher, while J.C. Caroline led the nation in rushing as a sophomore in 1953. Bobby Mitchell went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, while Buddy Young is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. John Karras was an All-American in the early 50s, while Thomas Rooks helped lead the Illini to three bowl games in four seasons, including the 1983 Big Ten Championship and 1984 Rose Bowl appearance.

At the 2008 Illini football home opener Sept. 6 against Eastern Illinois, the 10 greatest Fighting Illini from each position who played at Memorial Stadium will be recognized and introduced to the crowd.

That game has been selected as the Memorial Stadium Renaissance Celebration following a 21-month, $120 million renovation project. The running back group is the last of eight different groups that were announced over the last two months, preceded by the linebackers, specialists, receivers, defensive backs, quarterbacks, defensive linemen and offensive linemen.

Illini fans were able to vote on-line at from March 24 through April 17 to help select the honored athletes. Players on the ballot earned either first or second-team All-Big Ten honors, or played at least four years in the NFL.

Season tickets remain on sale for $225 for the sideline seating areas. For more information regarding tickets, contact the UI Athletics Ticket Office by phone at 217-333-3470 or 866-ILLINI-1, on the Internet at or in person at the Assembly Hall North Box Office.

10 Greatest Fighting Illini Running Backs

J.C. Caroline, RB, 1953-54 John Karras, RB, 1949-51
Harold "Red" Grange, RB, 1923-25 Rashard Mendenhall, RB, 2005-07
Jim Grabowski, RB, 1963-65 Bobby Mitchell, RB, 1955-57
Howard Griffith, RB, 1987-90 Thomas Rooks, RB, 1982-85
Robert Holcombe, RB, 1994-97 Buddy Young, RB, 1944, 1946