The 90 Illini #21: Khalan Tolson
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Just watched the Michigan State game tonight on BTN. Man, was Khalan Tolson huge in that game. Jake Hansen is injured (and we don't know at the time that he'll miss the rest of the season including the bowl game), Tolson gets his first start, and he puts together a fantastic game: 9 tackles, a fumble recovery (the fumbled snap), and, perhaps most importantly, he got his hand on a pass and tipped it over the receiver's head to a waiting Sydney Brown. Massive game in his first start.
21. Khalan Tolson
Uniform number: 45
Year in school: Junior (3 years to play 2; with the Covid rule, technically 4 to play 3)
Height: 6'-0" -- Weight: 220 lbs.
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
High School: Admiral Farragut Academy
Five best offers: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Pitt, Louisville
Tom Cruise rating:
2019 statistics: Played in 11 games, starting four. 28 tackles, one fumble recovery.
Tolson is maybe the model Illini recruit. That sounds wrong. He's the meat and potatoes Illini recruit. Mid three-star, in the top-1000, high-end offers. Picks Illinois.
Comes in as a freshman and plays right away. Almost all on special teams. Gets his feet wet, learns the systems, plays a few series here and there but it's mostly "on-the-field training as a freshman comes on special teams".
Second season, starts to play more. Then, when a starter is injured for the final four games, steps into a starting role. Has some rough moments and some bright spots.
Third season, time to grab a starting spot. And then fourth season, make a push for all-conference teams.
Do that 85 times and you'll win 6-8 games every season.
Lovie has already said the phrase "four starters" when discussing his linebackers, so Tolson will be in a rotation of four guys (Jake Hansen, Milo Eifler, and Delano Ware are the other three) at those three spots. As I said in the Ware post, Hansen plays almost every play, then Eifler gets the second-most snaps, then Tolson third, then Ware fourth. But they'll be out there enough that you'll kind of forget which ones are the starters and which one is the backup.
And Tolson is a player I'd really love to see use that fifth season which was added by the Covid rule. This season doesn't count, so let's get him back for two more seasons after this one as he continues to climb the ladder referenced above. Maybe by a fifth year, he can really make a lot of noise.