Senior Ryan Lankford has played his last snap as a member of Illinois’ football team. A botched gadget play in the first half of Saturday’s blowout loss to Michigan State did him in. Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun pounded Lankford on a double-reverse play, breaking a bone in his shoulder. The injury will require season-ending surgery, Illini coach Tim Beckman confirmed on Monday.
“What a great young man [from] a great family,” Beckman said. “I’m sorry that this had to happen, but Ryan Lankford will make us better as the season continues. It just won’t be on the football field. He’s a tremendous leader for us, and he’ll continue to do that.”
Lankford ranks second on the Illini in receiving yards (308) and yards per reception (20.5) this season. He had a pair of touchdowns, on a 72-yards catch against Washington and a 29-yard run against Cincinnati.
In 2012, he led the Illini in receptions (37), receiving yards (469) and receiving touchdowns (five).
Lankford was Illinois’ fastest receiver and its primary deep threat. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase didn’t connect with Lankford on many deep balls this season, but there were many shots taken.
Expect Steve Hull, who should be back in the lineup against Penn State after missing the MSU game with a head injury, to take on an expanded role. Hull, a senior, has good speed and explosive athleticism and already has contributed 13 catches for 281 yards and a score this season.
For Lankford, it’s a sad way to end his career.
“It’s tough when you take a young man’s senior season from him and you’ve got five games left to play,” Beckman said. “[But] he’ll be a great coach.”