By Dave Wischnowsky–
Mikel Leshoure has officially arrived.
So, does that also mean he’s already gone?
If the University of Illinois’ star running back wasn’t already on the NFL’s radar before he showed up in Chicago last Saturday afternoon, the 230-poud junior certainly was after he strolled out of Wrigley Field having scrawled a330-yard, two-touchdown performance vs. Northwestern onto his résumé.
With his showing, Leshoure not only established a new single-game school rushing record and the fifth-best performance in Big Ten history, but also put himself within striking distance of former Illini standout Rashard Mendenhall’s single-season rushing record.
With 1,371 yards, Leshoure needs 310 more over Illinois’ final two games (including a bowl) to eclipse the 1,681 yards that Mendenhall romped for during 2007 when, as a junior, he led the Illini to the Rose Bowl.
Just like Mendenhall – who’s now starring for the Pittsburgh Steelers – Leshoure is almost certainly ticketed for the NFL. And just like Mendenhall, he might even end up turning himself into a first-round pick.
But unlike Mendenhall, is there any chance that Leshoure actually sticks around for his senior year in Champaign?
I’d say it’s unlikely. But, if he does, history and roots might have everything to do with it.
A Champaign native, Leshoure starred at Centennial High School, where he rushed for 4,652 yards and 52 touchdowns to establish himself as the all-time leading rusher in Twin City (Champaign-Urbana) history.
With that feather already in his cap, I suppose it’s possible that Leshoure might want to add another and establish himself as the all-time University of Illinois rushing leader, too.
He certainly could.
Here’s how: If Leshoure maintains his per-game average of 125 yards over the final two games this season (hardly unreasonable), he’ll finish 2010 just shy of Mendenhall’s single-season record, with 1,621 yards. But, he also will have 2,481 total rushing yards for his career, which would put him just 1,624 behind the all-time Illinois career record of 4,105 set by former St. Louis Rams running back Robert Holcombe between 1994 and 1998.
That means, assuming Illinois plays 13 games next season, including a bowl – always a big assumption with the erratic Illini football program, mind you – Leshoure could set a new Illinois career record by merely averaging the same 125 yards per outing in 2011 that he has in 2010.
Earlier this season, Centennial football coach Mike McDonnell told the Chicago Tribune that hometown boy Leshoure is the hot topic of discussion in Champaign on a weekly basis.
“Everyone’s talking about how he played after every weekend,” McDonnell said. “He’s a legend.”
He could be an Illinois immortal if he sticks around for a senior year.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.