Height: 5-10 Weight: 225 Age: 29
Born: 6/19/1987 Skokie , IL
Selected By: Pittsburgh Steelers
Pick (Overall): 23 (23)
A physical inside runner, Mendenhall helped the Illini get back to the national prominence experienced in the 1980s. In his only season as a starter, Mendenhall led the team to a berth in the prestigious Rose Bowl. He went on to set school rushing records for most yardage (1,681) and touchdowns (17) in 2007, while also establishing an annual record with 1,999 all-purpose yards.
With a low center of gravity and thick legs, Mendenhall was a punishing force running between the tackles. He also showed the quick burst and second gear to elude defenders in the open field. Knowing what professional teams want in a tailback, he worked hard in the offseason to improve his pass-catching ability, almost tripling his reception production as a junior over that of his previous season (34 to 12).
At Niles West High School, Mendenhall was rated the premier recruit in the state of Illinois by Scout.com, earning a five-star prospect from that recruiting service, which rated him the 24th-best prep player in the country. He was named to Rivals.com's Top 100 team and rated 17th among national recruits by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a member of the Student Sports Top 100 list of senior prospects, adding Prep Star All-American and Dream Team accolades.
Mendenhall was also selected the top recruit in the state of Illinois by the Chicago Sun-Times and named to Super Prep's Elite 50 list and All-American squad, ranking as the nation's fourth-best running back by the same publication. He also participated in the Fifth Annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The two-sport star was a three-year All-Central Suburban Conference selection for football and two-time pick for track. He was named to All-State teams as a junior in both football and track, in addition to earning All-Area honors for both sports as a sophomore and during his junior year for football.
Mendenhall averaged 9.1 yards per carry as a senior, rushing for 1,453 yards on 160 attempts and 14 touchdowns. As a junior, he gained 1,832 yards and 19 touchdowns, while averaging 11.6 yards per carry and recorded 1,300 yards and 21 scores as a sophomore. He also had over 1,000 career yards receiving and 13 touchdown catches. He was the Outstanding Performer at the Illinois Prep Top-Times meet as a junior and finished seventh in the state 100-meter dash as a sophomore. He also lettered in basketball.
Mendenhall verbally committed to Illinois as a junior in high school, spurning scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Northwestern, so he could join his brother, Walter, in the backfield for the Fighting Illini. Walter redshirted in 2004 and both brothers lettered in '05. Rashard was listed third on the depth chart at tailback, appearing in 10 games as a reserve. He managed 218 yards on 48 carries (4.5-yard average) and scored twice on 13 receptions for 82 yards (6.3-yard average).
As a sophomore, Mendenhall backed up Pierre Thomas, finishing second on the team with 640 yards and five touchdowns on 78 attempts (8.2-yard average). He also snared 12 passes for 164 yards (13.7 avg) and a score, racking up 870 all-purpose yards. His 8.2-yard rushing average was the best in the Big Ten Conference. He also earned CoSIDA/ESPN Academic All-District and Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2006.
In 2007, was named Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He ranked second in the league and eighth in the country with 262 carries, setting school season-records with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns. He also set a school record with 1,999 all-purpose yards, ranking third in the Big Ten with an average of 153.77 yards per game. He also made 34 catches for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns, scoring 114 points for his final campaign.
Capitalizing on his standout season, Mendenhall opted to enter the 2008 NFL Draft.
In 35 games at Illinois, Mendenhall started 14 times. He rushed 388 times for 2,539 yards (6.5-yard average) and 22 touchdowns, ranking seventh all-time on the school's rushing yardage list. He grabbed 59 passes for 564 yards (9.6 avg) and five scores, finishing with 162 points. He recorded two solo tackles and ranks 11th in school history with 3,103 all-purpose yards.