It has been an eventful stretch for Chase Brown.
The Illinois star became the season’s first 1,000-yard rusher in the Football Bowl Subdivision on Oct. 15 and only the third player in program history to reach the milestone in back-to-back years.
He was named an Associated Press midseason All-American on Tuesday and the next day the Illini unveiled a “Chasing History” webpage to promote his candidacy for postseason honors.
The fifth-year running back is the undisputed headliner of a resurgent Illinois team that, at No. 17, has its highest ranking since 2011 and is first in the Big Ten West.
“I wanted this season to be something to remember,” Brown said. “Right now we’re just over halfway, and I’m not just happy with the wins. Personally, I think we can push this way further than where it is right now. I’m so excited to see where it can end up.”
Brown managed to rush for 1,005 yards last season despite missing two games because of injury, and he has prioritized taking care of his body with the Illini (6-1, 3-1) relying on him more this year.
He’s carrying the ball an average of 10 times more per game, and he set a national single-game high with 41 attempts for 180 yards in a 26-14 win over Minnesota on Oct. 15. He also caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Tommy DeVito in that game.
Illinois visits Nebraska this week, and backup running back Josh McCray, injured in the season opener, could be available to take some of the load off Brown.
Brown’s 1,059 yards rushing and his per-game averages of 27.4 carries and 29.6 scrimmage touches lead the nation.
“He’s a workhorse man,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “Their scheme matches what he does really well, especially their counter game and their power game. He’s a special back. He’s got speed, twitch, quickness, power. He’s got it all.”
Brown has meshed well with new offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. Second-year coach Bret Bielema hired Lunney away from UTSA, where his play-calling helped Sincere McCormick put together two straight 1,400-yard rushing seasons.
Lunney puts an emphasis on balance, mixing in the power running game that has long been Bielema’s identity with a willingness to take shots in the passing game.
“I was actually familiar with his whole system and I was excited to get to work with him,” Brown said. “He’s a great offensive mind. What he brings to the table is tempo and speed and a play-calling confidence we needed here.”
Brown and his twin brother, Sydney, grew up in London, Ontario. They moved together to Bradenton, Florida, in high school to play at St. Stephen’s Episcopal.
Former Illinois coach Lovie Smith signed Sydney, and this is his third year starting in the secondary. Chase spent two years at Western Michigan before transferring to Illinois in 2019.
“When I think back to middle school, trying to envision playing at a Division I school, it was just impossible to envision,” Chase said. “The fact we’re at this university and playing at a high level, it’s something that we could have only dreamed of.”
Chase Brown, averaging 151.3 yards per game, is on a school-record streak of eight straight 100-yard rushing performances and is no worse for the wear because of his dedication to rest and recovery.
“One day I might feel like I was in a car wreck,” he said, “but the next day, I’m all right and I’m ready to go.”
Bielema said Brown is a role model for his teammates because of the way he goes about his business on and off the field.
“He has another year of eligibility, and that will become a topic after the season,” Bielema said, “but for right now, just letting him chase history.”
Bielema approved the media campaign for Brown. The coach said Brown’s work through seven games merits the attention.
Bielema knows the Heisman Trophy is a long shot for Brown, who on Sunday was listed with the eighth-lowest odds by FanDuel Sportsbook. Illinois has never had a player higher than third in Heisman voting.
The more realistic honor would be the Doak Walker Award.
“Obviously, to be recognized as the best running back in college football would be pretty special,” Bielema said. “I think he’s in the in the hunt for that because of what he’s done.”
Brown said he appreciates the Illinois media relations staff getting his name out there, but his greater concern is holding up his end.
“The media team’s crushing it … the whole website and getting national media members to start paying attention,” he said. “The fact of the matter is I was under-recognized coming into the season, and I doubt anybody expected any of this happening right now.”
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