When you think of powerhouse colleges that produce prominent professional athletes, I’ll be the first to admit Illinois State University is not usually considered one of them.
While ISU doesn’t come close to producing the amount of athletes that schools like Michigan or Ohio State do (listed as the first and second ranked schools respectively that have produced the most professional athletes by Forbes) they have produced some impressive talent.
Admittedly, the majority of the talent that ISU has produced has been athletes that this generation of students may not recognize, but it’s been some remarkable talent nonetheless.
Two ISU athletes went on to win Super Bowls in their NFL careers, Dennis Nelson won Super Bowl V with the Baltimore Colts and Mike Prior had an interception in Super Bowl XXXI and went on to win that game with the Green Bay Packers.
The most notable current Illinois State alum playing in the NFL today is Laurent Robinson who is unfortunately playing for the St. Louis Rams, so don’t expect much production let alone another ISU athlete winning a Super Bowl anytime soon courtesy of him.
One of the more prominent, successful ISU professionals was Buzz Capra. He was a Major League pitcher in the ‘70s who won a pennant in 1973 with the New York Mets and recorded the best ERA in baseball in 1974 with the Philadelphia Phillies earning him an All-Star spot that season.
A former Redbird, Neil Cotts, currently pitches out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs (although most Cubs fans would agree it’s unfortunate that he does) and also formally played and won the 2005 World Series with the Chicago White Sox.
While with the Sox he was actually quite successful being voted by the fans as Setup Man of the Year in ‘05 and even got the win in Game 2 of the World Series.
Another significantly successful ISU alum with an interesting story is Steve Fisher. Fisher played college basketball at ISU and let the Redbirds to the Division II Final Four in 1969.
After graduating he became a coach, which eventually led to him becoming an assistant coach at the University of Michigan.
At the end of Michigan’s 1989 regular season their head coach accepted a job at a different school and Fisher was named head coach of the Wolverines.
The Wolverines then went on to the win the National Championship under Fisher that season. He also put together the famous “Fab Five” at Michigan a couple seasons later.
Lastly, Illinois State’s most prominent and well-known athlete is Doug Collins; yes the Doug Collins of Doug Collins Court in Redbird Arena.
Collins played basketball for the Redbirds and went on to represent the United States, as ISU’s only Olympian, in the 1972 Summer Olympics.
He had a long, successful playing career in the NBA being named an All-Star four times. After suffering injuries later on in his career he retired from basketball and took on coaching.
In the late 1980’s, Collins coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to the playoffs multiple times but was eventually replaced by assistant Phil Jackson.
So, although Illinois State may never be mentioned in the same breath as other big-time universities as far as professional athletes go, you’d by lying to say that our historic school has never created any professional talent.
While we ISU students should pride ourselves in the great academics this school provides and for the talent in the professional world in general this school produces, don’t forget to take pride in our athletics and the previous, current and future star athletes that ISU will undeniably continue to produce as well.