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Four Saints players are University of Illinois Alums

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Throughout the past few years, the NFL has been flooded with players from top college programs like USC, Ohio State, and even Louisiana's own LSU.

However, this year at Saints training camp, a new school is taking over, the University of Illinois.  With four former players practicing with the team, Illinois shows up most frequently on the team's roster.

Of the four Illini players currently on the Saints roster, three are attending their first training camp with the organization. The three rookie Illini are wide receiver Jarred Fayson and linebackers Nate Bussey and Martez Wilson. Joining the Illini rookie class is running back Pierre Thomas

"Having four guys on the roster just shows that we have a lot of players coming from different schools, not just the big name schools," Bussey stated.  "By having four people here in New Orleans from Illinois, it's a blessing to see these guys again and to get to play with them once again."

These young players had an advantage during this past off-season's NFL lockout, which halted labor for the longest period of time in NFL history.

The incoming rookies were able to look to Thomas for advice about the transition from college to pro football.

"He just told me to relax," said Wilson.  "He talked about concentrating on assignment, technique and focus.  Besides that he just told me to go out there and play and be yourself."

Wilson also believes that this influx of Illini could be a trend that leads into the future.

"The program is progressing a lot," said Wilson. "(Illinois Head Coach) Ron Zook definitely knows how to recruit talent."  

The New Orleans Saints have a close connection with the Illini football program and with Zook. Zook served as the Saints defensive coordinator from 2000-2001.

"We are very excited to have so many of our players with the Saints," said Zook. "They are just two years removed from a Super Bowl win and are a great franchise. I know there will be plenty of competition for the roster spots and I'm sure the Illini will do well."

Fayson is also in the mix to make a name for himself and compete for one of the vaunted 53-man roster spots.  Head Coach Sean Payton sees a lot of potential in Fayson and will keep his eye on him throughout training camp.  

"He runs well," said Payton. "He has very good timed speed and he picks things up quickly.  It's good to see some new receivers. He was a guy that was one of our targeted free agents and I'm glad he's with us."

Both rookie linebackers are excited to be in New Orleans and are battling for coveted reps.

"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," said Wilson. "I came here to compete.  I'm going to work my butt off and work as hard as I can."  

Bussey is also ready to compete but is thankful to be in New Orleans.  

"It's hot, but I'll get adapted to it really soon," said the rookie LB. "Other than that, I love New Orleans and I'm glad to be here."

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