Illini’s Benn making leap to NFL

John Supinie

Illinois football star Arrelious Benn stayed on his own pace and jumped to the NFL, the junior receiver announced Wednesday. On the same day, the program added two position coaches and is expected to announce the hiring of a defensive coordinator Friday.

Before the week is done, Benn's brother Trulon Henry may commit to the Illini.

"This is the best time because I think I'm ready,'' said Benn, who made his decision before meeting newly hired Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino on Monday. "I've proven a lot on the collegiate level. This is the right time for me.''

Meanwhile, quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm and tight ends coach Greg Nord were hired, the school said Wednesday, and all signs point to Kansas State co-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning hired as the Illinois defensive coordinator. A press conference is expected Friday.

Brohm and Nord worked with Petrino at Louisville. Last season, Nord coached tight ends and served as recruiting coordinator at Louisville with Brohm working as quarterbacks coach at Florida Atlantic.

Koenning will be the lone defensive coordinator at Illinois, where co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory were demoted to position coaches Friday. At Kansas State, Koenning and Chris Cosh led a Kansas State defense that ranked 40th nationally and 16th in rushing defense. The previous season, Kansas State ranked 117th in total defense.

Koenning served as Clemson's defensive coordinator for three seasons before working at Kansas State last season. The hiring of Koenning would fill the Illini staff after coach Ron Zook announced the firing of four assistants Friday.

Benn met a goal of jumping to the NFL after three seasons of college football, just like former teammate Vontae Davis and Davis' brother Vernon.

"Having been friends with Vontae, who went last year, and his brother and knowing a lot of guys who played on the collegiate level and went to the NFL, it's a competition we have amongst ourselves,'' Benn said. "I was ready to do it.''

According to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay of Scouts Inc., Benn is the third-ranked receiver behind Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant and Notre Dame's Golden Tate. Benn is ranked No. 33 overall on Scouts' list of draft prospects.

Benn caught 38 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns this past season while playing with a bothersome ankle under a new offensive coordinator. He finished his career with 159 catches for 2,221 yards and seven touchdowns, but Benn's stock may have fallen after a slow junior season.

"I'm looking at being a first-rounder,'' Benn said. "There was really wasn't a cutoff. GM's and scouts have that decision. All I need to do is prove myself and do what I need to do leading up to the process.''

Benn will leave campus after a final exam on Thursday and planned to prepare for the draft elsewhere to "have a clear mind and focus,'' he said. Benn has about 20 hours to complete to earn a degree.

"I know this has always been a goal of his, to be in position to make this decision after three years,'' Zook said in a written statement. "What is most impressive about him and his mother is their commitment to academics. Even though he will go on to have a great professional career, he is going to make sure to get a degree from Illinois. I love Rejus like my son, and he has always shown such great character and represented the university well."

Henry, Benn's older brother who served prison time for robbery, completed his second season at College of DuPage in the Chicago suburbs, and he indicated he would likely commit to Illinois Thursday night or Friday. Henry wants to enroll for the spring semester, but Henry figured he would be here without Benn.

"He's my little brother,'' Henry said. "I have to let him live. We're not kids any more. He makes good decisions. He's very smart and very mature.''

John Supinie can be reached atJohnsupinie@aol.com.