football Edit

Ready to report: Running back Mike Epstein

The incoming Illini freshman class is set to report to campus on June 10.

Next up in our "ready to report” series, Orange and Blue News spotlights 3-star running back Mike Epstein from Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.

Since his original commitment to the Illini back in August of 2015, it's been an interesting journey for Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas running back Mike Epstein.

After Illinois made the decision to move on from Bill Cubit, Epstein’s future appeared to be in limbo. However, Lovie Smith and staff quickly made the three-star back a priority, and he remains extremely grateful.

“I still remember the first day after Coach Smith was hired and he reached out to me,” Epstein said. “That really meant a lot to me. And since then, our relationship has gotten stronger and I'm excited to continue to develop it.”

Running backs coach Thad Ward also took a large role in convincing Epstein to stay with the Illini. The two have continued to develop a strong bond, and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee has made a meaningful connection as well.

“Coach Ward has been coming to my house and going over the playbook with me,” Epstein said. “And I have been talking with Coach McGee over the phone too, which has been useful. This staff is what really made me want to come to Illinois.”

Although the recruiting process has been enjoyable, Epstein made it clear he is ready to start the next chapter of his life in Champaign.

“I am really excited to get up there and get to work with my new teammates,” Epstein said. “I am taking it one day at a time right now. My future teammates and I - we’re all looking forward to putting the University of Illinois back on top.”

Epstein has high hopes for the program over the next few years. That said, he understands the process could take time, and next year is just the first part of a long journey.

“We will be a young team, but we will have many opportunities to improve and win a lot of games,” Epstein said. “We have a strong class coming in, and we can all learn and get better, even if there are some struggles at times. We all need to go up there ready to work and learn. There are limits no for our season. We are going up from here on out.”

After a successful senior season that included 1,477 total yards, 20 touchdowns, and a 7A state title, Epstein is hoping that momentum will carry over to next year.

“Last year was great, but I have kept working hard and improving my game for the next level,” Epstein said. “I'm just trying to continue to improve every day and make the most of my opportunities, and then maybe I can work my way into the rotation.”

However, Epstein noted that he is also focused on several goals not centered around the gridiron while at Illinois.

“The biggest thing I want to do is take advantage of the great education that is offered,” Epstein said. “I have to take advantage of all the resources around me at Illinois, and really just use them to become a better man.”