Seniors And Award Winners Honored

Kurt Kittner was named team MVP due in part to his efforts in wins over OSU and Michigan.
Kurt Kittner was named team MVP due in part to his efforts in wins over OSU and Michigan.

Nov. 23, 1999

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Fresh off the 29-7 win over in-state rival Northwestern, the University of Illinois football team gathered to honor the 22 seniors and the season's award winners at the annual team banquet in the Illini Union Monday evening.

The team also celebrated the 1999 season which saw the Illini win more games than the last three seasons combined and defeat both No. 9 Michigan and No. 25 Ohio State on the road for the first time in school history. The Illini surprised fans with one of the most productive offenses in Illinois history, scoring 325 points over the year, falling just short of the school record.

Former Illini and notably the best linebacker in college football Dick Butkus was on hand to receive the annual Monsignor E. Duncan award, which is given to the former letterwinner who has diplayed exemplary integrity and dedication to his community. Butkus, an Illini letterwinner from 1962-64 led the 1963 team to a Big Ten title and 1964 Rose Bowl. His legendary career also includes a 12-year stint with the Chicago Bears, where he was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. Butkus has been inducted into both the Professional Football Hall of Fame (1979) and College Football Hall of Fame (1983).

The following are the Illini award winners from the 1999 Illinois Football Banquet:

Most Valuable Player: Kurt Kittner, quarterback
Kittner, considered one of the most improved players in the Big Ten this season, put together a record-setting season for the Illini leading the team to its first bowl game since 1994. Under Kittner, the Illini offense went from 1,600 total passing yards in 1998 to over 2,400 in 1999.With the improvement, the Illini averaged 388.7 yards per game. and 29.5 points per game.

Offensive Player of the Year: Kurt Kittner, quarterback
Starting every game this season, the true-sophomore from Schaumburg, Ill. tied a 10-year-old school record for touchdown passes in a season (Jeff George with 22 in 1989). He connected with 11 different receivers for his 22 touchdowns and passed for over 2,400 yards. Most notably, in 372 attempts, Kittner threw only four interceptions.

Defensive Player of the Year: Asim Pleas, safety
Pleas finishe dthe season with 67 tackles, good enough for fourth on the team. He was third on the team in tackles for loss with seven for a loss of 13 yards. He also recorded the team's first interception with a pick of Heisman hopeful Chris Redman and 52-yard return. Pleas also registered two passes broken up and a forced fumble.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Neil Rackers, placekicker
Rackers broke school record after school record this season in a game against Iowa that had Rackers scoring the team's first 19 points and 22 of the Illini's 40 points in the game. Rackers led the team in scoring with 102 points, including the first-ever touchdown reception by a kicker on anm 18-yard pass from punter Steve Fitts in a fake field goal attempt. Rackers currently ranks 14th in the nation in scoring and first in the Big Ten.

Rookie of the Year: Brandon Lloyd, wide receiver
Blue Springs, Mo., native Lloyd was a highly touted recruit for the Illini, but as a cornerback. With a preseason injury, Lloyd moved to the offensive side of the ball and has become one of the biggest offensive threats for the Illini. Lloyd broke the freshman record for receiving yard with his 27 catches for 464 yards. He had eight receptions over 30 yards and two kick returns for plus 30 yards.

Bruce Capel Award: Steve Havard, running back
The Bruce Capel Award is given to the Illini player who displays the most courage, dedication and accomplishment. Havard, the Illini's leading running back, totaled 715 yards rushing pushing him to 16th on Illinois' all-time rushing yardage list. He scored eight touchdowns this season, the most on the Illini squad.

Scholar-Athlete Award: Josh Whitman, tight end
Whitman holds a 3.96 overall GPA in the Illini's nationally ranked business school. He is a two-time academic all-Big Ten and was named an academic All-American this season. On the field, he registered 18 receptions for 166 yards and three touchdowns.

Wright Committment to Excellence Award: Matt Carlton, defensive tackle
The Wright Committment to Excellence Award is presented to the individual who has dedicated themselves to academic excellence despite obstacles faced during his collegiate career. Carlton transferred to Illinois in 1997 and has maintained a B average. On the field, Carlton made the transition from offensive to defensive line and played special teams as part of the field goal and PAT protection unit.

Scout Team Players of the Year: Carey Davis, fullback, Marcus Hood, linebacker

1999 Team Captains: Steve Havard, running back, Ray Redziniak, offensive guard (offense), Danny Clark, linebacker (defense), Neil Rackers, placekicker (special teams).