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Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence leaving early for NFL draft

Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is seen as third- or fourth-round prospect by some online scouting services.

Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is seen as a third- or fourth-round prospect by some online scouting services.

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Updated: January 23, 2013 6:08AM



Junior defensive tackle Akeem Spence said Friday he will forgo his last season of eligibility at Illinois to enter the NFL draft.

Spence, a native of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., started every game the last three seasons after redshirting in 2009. He was third on the Illini in tackles (72) and tied for second in tackles for loss (seven) this season and was an honorable-mention selection to the All-Big Ten team. In his final college appearance, he had a career-high 11 tackles and two tackles for loss Nov. 24 at Northwestern.

The 6-1, 305-pound Spence, who will graduate Saturday with a degree in communications, has been projected as a third- to fourth-round prospect by some online scouting services.

‘‘I would like to thank the University of Illinois for giving me an opportunity to become a great student-athlete,’’ Spence said in a statement. ‘‘The current and past coaching staffs have been very supportive. My family and I look forward to the journey ahead.’’

Spence is the eighth Illinois player in the last six years to enter the draft with eligibility remaining. The previous seven all were taken in the first three rounds, including four first-rounders.

Spence is the third defensive lineman in as many seasons to leave the Illini early. He follows Corey Liuget (2010) and Whitney Mercilus (2011), both of whom were first-round picks.

‘‘We wish Akeem nothing but the best,’’ Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. ‘‘He’s worked very hard on the field and in the classroom to put himself in this position.’’



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