Epstein's long journey to Illinois

Florida running back sticks with Illini through two coaching changes

URBANA (WCIA) -- When Mike Epstein committed to play football at Illinois, Tim Beckman was still the coach. He stayed true to Bill Cubit after Beckman was fired. And again, Epstein stayed ever so true, when Lovie Smith took over.

"We went through some turmoil and stuff but then Coach Smith called me up and told me how bad he wanted me and I couldn't let that down," Epstein said. "I watched him coach in a Super Bowl so he's been where I want to be so I want to follow that path."

While Ricky Smalling was the first to commit to Illinois with Lovie Smith as head coach, it was Epstein that held the class of 2017 together.

"I think a lot of recruits saw what I did and respected it so when I reached out to them trying to get them to join Orange and Blue they saw that I was legitimate about it and they understood where I was coming from," said Epstein.

Graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, not only does Epstein bring is talent to Champaign, but opens a recruiting pipeline to a key state.

"I think it says a lot," Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. "I think it says he likes the University of Illinois quite a bit. When you go through recruiting, a lot of guys once you get a chance to meet them, when they give you their word it means something. It was that way with Mike and his family."

On the field, Epstein has been one of the most impressive freshman in camp so far. With Reggie Corbin and Kendrick Foster dealing with minor injuries, the freshman has a chance to play for the Illini right away.

"That's what we told these guys," Illinois running backs coach Thad Ward said. "You come in, have a chance to compete and come in and contribute right away. He stayed loyal to us the entire time, committed to us and so he is, he's putting himself in a position right now with his work to have a chance to come in and contribute right away."

Through everything, two coaching changes, and even a torn ACL, Epstein has stayed loyal to you Illinois.

"This is home for me for the next three to four years so I love this place," Epstein said.


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