Newly hired Illinois head coach Bret Bielema will have a solid kicking game on the field in 2021.

Just one day after Illinois senior kicker James McCourt announced that he is returning to the Illini for a sixth season of eligibility, punter Blake Hayes followed suit.

Hayes was named to the media’s All-Big Ten Third Team and was recognized as the 2019 Big Ten Punter of the Year last season. In 2020, Hayes averaged 43.7 yards per punt, good for the fourth-best average in the B1G.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, he also holds the Illinois program record for most career punt yards with 10,811 yards.

In addition to his kicking ability, Hayes is a threat to run as well and successfully converted two fake punts (at Nebraska on Nov. 21 and at Northwestern on Dec. 12.).

Punter’s do not traditionally steal the headlines but make no mistake about the impact of having Hayes back in 2021. His leg is definitely a weapon that can allow the Illini to flip the field and make life tougher for opposing offenses.