Dre Brown plays against Minnesota this year in Minneapolis
Dre Brown plays against Minnesota this year in Minneapolis — AP photos

DeKalb's own Dre Brown is set to prepare himself for the NFL. Brown, a fifth-year running back who excelled on kick returns for the Illinois Fighting Illini, will play his final game in Illinois' Bowl game.

Illinois will play California in the Redbox Bowl on Dec. 30.

“It was a tough decision, especially when coach Lovie Smith asked (me) to come back for another year," Brown said. "It shows he really valued me as a player. We had a great talk. Just a great conversation. We listed out the pros and cons of coming back another year and playing in the NFL. It was awesome. My focus on this season was just playing my best and giving my all to Illinois so I would have no regrets.”

Brown spoke glowingly of the support he receives from DeKalb.

“I came from DeKalb, 17 years old and before then, there weren’t a lot of people going, playing DI football," Brown said. Now it’s starting to pick up ever since I left. My first few years I got injured and fell off the map a little bit. It was nice, I re-surged a little bit last year and this year and it’s been awesome to go home and people just loving you and talking about the memories of DeKalb.”

Brown looks up to another local as someone who has set forth a path to the pros in the form of the Kansas City Chiefs Ben Niemann, a Sycamore alum.

“I look at Ben Niemann for example as one of those guys from my area that I look up to and it’s cool to see him playing in the NFL," Brown said.

An all-Big Ten third team kick returner as chosen by the conference's coaches, Brown fought to excel in his fifth season after fighting through two ACL tears and other hurdles. He ran for 545 yards and five scores on the ground this season for the Illini.

He sees himself as a potential special teams player in the pros, after averaging 25.0 yards per kick return.

"I returned kicks at Illinois," Brown said. I’m going to have to do the other phases of special teams. I feel good about that. Really I just want to come in make an impact and show my consistency and what I've done as a player."

Even before the Redbox Bowl, Brown has enough memories from his fifth-year senior season to last a lifetime.

“We beat Wisconsin, (which) was ranked sixth at the time," Brown said. "We were 31-point underdogs. Being a part of something like that, we’re down 28-3 versus Michigan State on the road and we came back and won and it’s just memories you’ll never forget.”