Illinois starting DE announces return for 2021 season
New Illinois coach Bret Bielema and his staff got some good news Tuesday.
Isaiah Gay, a starting defensive end for the Illini in recent years, announced via Twitter that he will be taking advantage of the additional year of eligibility granted to him and all other athletes by the NCAA. His tweet made his return to the Illinois football team in 2021 official.
— Isaiah Gay (@twelve_shottz) January 12, 2021
The Nashville, North Carolina, native could be a big help as Bielema and his staff slowly start to transform the Illinois roster.
Since 2017, his freshman season, Gay has been a factor along the Illini defensive line. As a freshman, he started two games while appearing in all 12. As the third youngest player to start an FBS game that season, Gay registered 20 tackles, a sack and two quarterback hurries.
As a sophomore, he earned three starts and finished with 20 tackles once again along with a sack. The next season, he improved to 27 tackles along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
In 2020, Gay continued to be force up front as he finished with 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
Looking at the big-picture aspect of this decision, it could be beneficial for both sides. Gay can come back and possibly improve his NFL Draft stock. As for the program, Gay could be a major leader as Bielema and his staff try to improve on what Lovie Smith and co. left behind.