WR Ricky Smalling won’t return to Illinois; two other Fighting Illini away for personal reasons


After a few months of almost nothing but positives on the personnel front, the Illinois football roster has been hit with some attrition.  Some rather significant attrition, it should be noted.

According to the Champaign News-Gazette, Ricky Smalling will not be returning to the Fighting Illini for his senior season.  An Illinois football official confirmed the development. “Details of Smalling’s separation from the team were not revealed,” the News-Gazette wrote.

It’s expected that Smalling will land in the NCAA transfer database, if he hasn’t already.  Speaking of which…

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Smalling, the first commit of the Lovie Smith era in Champaign, started 28 of the 30 games in which he played for the Illini.  As a true freshman in 2017 (31-510-2) and then again the following season (33-406-5), Smalling led the team in receiving.  He was on pace to do the same in 2019 before suffering what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury.

In addition to Smalley’s departure, two other senior Illinois football players are not currently with the team.  Running back Ra’Von Bonner and offensive lineman Jake Cerny will not play for the Illini this season because of what was described as personal reasons.  It’s unclear if either player will look to transfer.  Bonner still has a redshirt to use, although Cerny would need to get a sixth season of eligibility to play in 2021 if he indeed sits out this fall.

Bonner has rushed for 822 yards and 10 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Big Ten school.  He would’ve been the team’s leading returning rusher.  Added to the graduations of Reggie Corbin (team-leading 675 yards a season ago) and Dre Bown (584), Bonner’s departure means Jakari Norwood (94) will carry that moniker.

The past three seasons, Cerny has appeared in 25 games.  He started one of those contests, this past season’s Redbox Bowl loss to Cal.