CHAMPAIGN — After finding the spotlight on the field in Champaign, Oluwole Betiku Jr. is going to move to a bigger stage
The University of Illinois junior defensive end declared for the NFL Draft, he announced Saturday.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone involved in the University of Illinois football program,” Betiku said on Twitter. “Although I only participated on the field for one season, I will always remember the special experiences I had here. I want to thank the coaches, fans, and my football brothers that have helped make my time in Champaign memorable.
“I’d like to announce that I will forego my senior season and declare for the NFL Draft. Again, I’d like to thank everyone along the way that has helped me to this point.”
Betiku played in 10 games and started nine at defensive end, totaling 36 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, and seven quarterback hurries. His nine sacks tied for the seventh-most in Illinois single season history.
“We wish Oluwole nothing but the best as he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL,” said Illinois head coach Lovie Smith. “Wole had a terrific impact on our football team, both on the field and in the locker room. We appreciate all he did during the time he was on the Illinois campus and look forward to watching his future.”
Betiku helped Illinois reach a bowl game for the first time since 2014. He had 3.5 sacks at Connecticut, the fifth-most sacks in a game in Illini history, and one sack vs. No. 6 Wisconsin to help Illinois win 24-23 and pull off one of the biggest upsets in Big Ten history.
Betiku is a native of Lagos, Nigeria, and spent his first two collegiate seasons at Southern California. He transferred to Illinois with a degree from USC in international relations.
Illinois’ pro day is scheduled for Monday, March 9. The NFL Draft will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas.
With Betiku graduating, Illinois will lose all four of its main starters on the defensive line. Defensive tackles Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver graduated and Ayo Shogbonyo is passing up a fifth year of eligibility for personal reasons. Adding to the unknown upfront, second-year defensive line coach Austin Clark was hired by the Miami Dolphins earlier this week to be their outside linebackers coach.
The Illini will likely look for help once again in the transfer portal. But rising seniors Isaiah Gay and Owen Carney will be counted on to step us, and talented redshirt freshmen Keith Randolph and Seth Coleman will likely be a part of the rotation.