University of Illinois senior defensive end Jihad Ward will miss the team’s first two games of the 2015 season with an undisclosed injury and junior Dawuane Smoot is expected to fill in in his absence.
Fighting Illini coach Tim Beckman made the announcement, which was reported by Matt Daniels of The News-Gazette.
Losing Ward won’t help Illinois’s defense, as the Illini ranked 113th in the nation in total defense last year and he brought great size to the line at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds. He arrived on campus from junior college last year and had 51 tackles (8.5 for a loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles.
The team will now be without him for the season opener at home against the MAC’s Kent State Golden Flashes on September 4 and then another home game against the MVFC’s Wester Illinois Leathernecks on September 12. Granted, those aren’t exactly critical games but when the fact that Illinois has not even been in Big Ten title contention since 2001 (when the team won the Big Ten under coach Ron Turner) is taken into consideration, every game truly does count.
Hopefully, Ward can recover quickly and continue working hard to put Illinois back on the winning track.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Chicago Tribune