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Michael Eubank, Jonathan Brown

Arizona State quarterback Michael Eubank (18) tries to break the tackle of Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown (45) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012,in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Jonathan Brown is not a big fan of the decision to push the National Football League Draft back a couple of weeks.

The former University of Illinois linebacker is ready to get to work.

“I’m excited about getting a chance to play in the NFL and I’m anxious to get started,’’ said Brown, who is expected to be among the selections May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. “After going to the Orange and Blue Spring Game, I’m even more pumped up about getting back out on the field and back to football.

“I have no idea where I’m going — I’ve heard anywhere from third or fourth round to free agent — but I’m ready to find out where I’m going to play and I’m ready to get the next chapter of my life started.’’

Brown, 21, stands 6 feet and weighs 238 pounds. A Memphis native, he played in 12 games as a true freshman and enjoyed an extremely productive career with the Illini.

He led the team in tackles in both his sophomore and senior seasons, finishing his career with 45½ tackles for loss, the third-most in school history. Last fall, he finished 18th in the nation with 9.9 tackles per game and led Illinois in tackles (119), tackles for loss (19) and sacks (5). And he tied for the lead in pass breakups (4).

“I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish in Champaign,’’ said Brown, who sat out the last three-plus games of his junior season with a shoulder injury. “I had an opportunity to play in one of the top football conferences in the nation and I learned a great deal.’’

Brown played both inside and outside for Illinois and knows he will have to make his mark on special teams at the next level.

“I rely a lot on my instincts,’’ he said. “I feel like I have a good feel for the game and that I’m able to put myself in position to make plays.’’

Brown had four tackles in the Senior Bowl in late January and was the only Illinois player invited to the NFL scouting combine in February. After mixed results there, he showed improvement in all tests during Illinois’ pro day in March.

“My goal is to keep working and to keep getting better,’’ he said. “I’m working on my overall conditioning and trying to get stronger — I definitely need to be more physical at the next level — and I’m really focusing on my hand strength so that I can do a better job of shedding blocks.

“Also, I’m learning what it takes to be a professional, on and off the football field.’’

Brown has graduated with a degree in communications and plans to walk down the aisle on May 17. He has returned home to Memphis and is working at Smoothie King.

“I’m doing dishes, making smoothies, trying to keep customers happy,’’ he kidded. “It’s something to keep me busy — you can’t work out 24 hours a day — and it also gives me a little bit of spending money.’’


After three injury-filled seasons at safety, Steve Hull enjoyed a breakout season — more precisely half a season — at wide receiver for the Illini.

And that late-season production — he led the nation in receiving yards over the final five games of 2013 — makes him an intriguing draft prospect.

“The way I played in those last few games is my best advertisement,’’ the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cincinnati native said. “I’m working out, trying to stay ready. Every player wants to be drafted, but I just need to get my foot in the door somewhere, to get an opportunity to show what I can do.’’

After a redshirt season working at receiver, Hull was shifted to defense just two weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“I did what I needed to do to help my team,’’ he said.

Hull made one start and played in eight games his first season and made 11 starts at safety as a sophomore, finishing with 58 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception.

Hull’s junior season was limited to just five games due to a shoulder injury. That offseason, after being told by one doctor that he shouldn’t play football again, Hull met with a specialist from the Cincinnati Bengals who told him his days at safety were over because his shoulder couldn’t take the pounding.

Hull’s return to receiver started slowly. He had just seven catches for 176 yards and a touchdown before coming up with 105 yards on six catches against Wisconsin in Week 6. But after fellow senior and good friend Ryan Lankford went down with a season-ending injury in a loss to Michigan State, Hull took advantage.

He caught six passes for 59 yards at Penn State and then hauled in nine for 224 yards and two scores in a 52-35 loss at Indiana. Against Ohio State, he had eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.

In Week 11, he helped the Illini snap a 20-game conference losing streak in a 20-16 win at Purdue, finishing with 10 catches for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hull closed out the season with 13 receptions for 155 yards and a score in a loss to Northwestern.

“I’ve definitely thought about what I might’ve accomplished in four years as a receiver,’’ said Hull, who led the nation with 712 receiving yards on 46 catches with six touchdowns over the final five weeks of the 2013 campaign. “But I honestly have no regrets about how things turned out. I did the best I could at safety before the injuries started to pile up and that experience on defense helped make me a better receiver.

“With my play at the end of the season, I was able to create a little bit of momentum and hopefully that’s something the NFL scouts took notice of.’’

Hull, who played on all four special-teams units during his career at Illinois, is training at EFT Sports Performance in suburban Chicago and anxiously awaiting next month’s draft.

“The more I’m away from the game, the more passion I feel for it,’’ he said. “I’ve always been pretty hard on myself, so I’m constantly pushing and trying to get better. And I’m going to bring that same tenacity to do whatever I can to help the next team I’m with.’’

Joe Lyons is a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.