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William Cerney '74 (2005)

Off the field, he was amiable and easy-going. On the field, it was a different story. Lean, mean, and lightning quick, William B. Cerney played the game of football with a ruthless and relentless intensity. A two-way player of superior athleticism and versatility, Bill influenced the field of play in myriad ways, whether at running back, quarterback, safety, or return man. His calling cards were speed and aggressiveness. He used them to emerge as one of the dominant two-way all-around players in the Chicago Catholic League before taking his game to the University of Illinois and a two-year stint at starting safety for the Fighting Illini. Along the way, he staked his claim to a place among the elite all-around gridiron men in Rambler football history. After earning the first of three varsity letters as a sophomore safety for Coach Bob Spoo (Hall of Fame, 1985) Bill added running back to his repertoire as a junior, averaging a gaudy eight yards per carry on the offensive side while continuing his fearless play on defense. However, it was his senior campaign of 1973 that revealed the full range of his multiple talents. He seldom if ever left the field for Tom Power's (Hall of Fame, 1999) Ramblers. On offense, he split his duties between running back and option quarterback, racking up nine yards per carry. On defense he led the Ramblers in tackles, interceptions (4), and fumble recoveries (5) while anchoring the secondary from his safety position. On special teams, he averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and 13 yards per punt return in addition to serving on the cover teams. In short, he influenced every snap of the ball as one of the most complete football players in the Chicago area. The post-season honors speak to his versatility: he was named All-Catholic League at running back, Pioneer Press All-Area at defensive back, Chicago Tribune All-Area at running back, and All-State Honorable Mention at quarterback. Fittingly, Super Prep named him to its All-American team simply as an athlete. He was also named a finalist for the Knute Rockne Award given annually to the Chicago Player of the Year by the Notre Dame Club of Chicago. Several major college football programs came calling, including the University of Illinois, where Bill earned three letters, two as a starter in the secondary. He quickly earned a reputation for his hard-hitting, hard-nosed style of play. As a sophomore cornerback, he led the Illini in interceptions, including a 49-yard return for touchdown against Washington State that proved to be the longest in the Big Ten for 1975. That same season saw him save a tie with Michigan State with a dramatic game-saving tackle, stopping the MSU quarterback on the one-yard line on the last play of the game. The next season he moved to safety and punt returner. In a stunning 31-6 upset of number-one ranked Missouri, Bill earned defensive player of the game honors when he broke up seven passes while leading an inspired Illini defense in shutting down the Tigers' explosive offense. Playing safety in the first half, he shut down future All-Pro tight end Kellen Winslow before moving to cornerback in the second half, where he put the vise on future pro Leo Lewis. It was a performance that summed up his entire career: speed, skill, toughness, and tenacity. Former NFL and Illini defensive coordinator Dave Adolph ranked Bill the third nastiest player in Illini history, behind Dick Butkus and Ty McMillan. After injury and a coaching change, Bill decided to leave football for good and concentrate on his studies. Bill joins brother Tim (Hall of Fame, 2004) as one of eight sets of brothers to be inducted.

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