Nowicki, a member of the Nittany Lions' 2011 recruiting class who sat out his first season in State College, told the Chicago Tribune that his decision was not entirely because of the penalties imposed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.
"With everything going on, it was really rough," Nowicki said. His soon-to-be ex-teammates "know this is what's the best for my future. . . . It just wasn't the same as when I got here. I wasn't feeling it anymore. It wasn't for me."
He becomes the first departing Penn Stater to join another Big 10 team. In announcing Penn State's harsh punishments, the NCAA said players could transfer without sitting out a year and could transfer within the conference.
After that announcement, Illinois sent eight coaches to State College to talk with those players who had expressed a desire to leave, a move that drew widespread criticism from within and beyond the Penn State community.
The Fighting Illini lost two offensive linemen from last year's team and Nowicki is expected to compete for those openings.
"I liked the family atmosphere [Illinois] had as a team," Nowitzki told the Tribune. He also had considered Washington and Arizona State. "The coaches are there for their players no matter what. All that together was a great package for me. It's a team on the rise. They're going to be a great team in the future, and I want to be a part of that."
Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.