Travon Bellamy was the starting nickel back on the 2006 Illinois team. He had two interceptions, and he returned his first one 41 yards for a touchdown at Wisconsin. Illini coach Ron Zook considered him for a starting cornerback spot in 2007.
Unfortunately, the Greenbelt, Maryland, product lost the 2007 season to surgeries on both shoulders. He came back in 2008 to play safety but was a hollow shell of his former self. It takes awhile to forget shoulder problems and hit ball carriers fearlessly, and it appeared he continued to favor them in 2009. Regardless, he struggled and was forgotten by most Illini fans.
Bellamy was considered one of three starters at the two safety spots for 2010 throughout Camp Rantoul along with Supo Sanni and Trulon Henry. When Sanni was lost for the year and cornerback Terry Hawthorne was lost 4-6 weeks with injuries, Bellamy was moved to boundary cornerback.
Despite the sudden move and lack of practice at the new position, Bellamy has asserted himself well in the first three games. He has helped the Illini win two of their three games, but more than that he has put a smile back on his face. In 2008 he begged out of interviews, claiming tonsillitis. He was a reluctant interviewee in 2009. He was so lacking in confidence he even kept his helmet on during an interview early this fall.
Finally, little by little, he has come out of his shell as he has played better. After five tackles including a sack as the Illini defeated NIU last Saturday, Bellamy displayed a big smile in the post game locker room.
"Yeah man, glory to God. It's God's spirit in me man. I'm just going out playing for Jesus Christ my lord and savior and trying to play for my teammates. Do the best I can to help my team win."
To say he was frustrated with the past three years is an understatement. At long last, he can put it behind him.
"It's in the past now. The past few years I wasn't playing my best. I recognized that, and in my last year I made sure I did whatever I can to help this team win."
The 6'-0", 205 pounder has little remaining memory of his early splash in college football.
"I really wish I could remember. That was so long ago. I'm just trying to go out there and have fun with my teammates."
After three games, the Illini still have no interceptions on the season. Bellamy was a ball hawk as a freshman, so he was asked what the Illini needed to do to grab some turnovers.
"I dropped one last week, and for that I had trouble sleeping. We're gonna continue to study film and get better."
After all his problems, Bellamy has a mature outlook on how life works. The Illini secondary has had a lot of personnel change in recent weeks, but he and his teammates will not let that discourage them.
"We've been hit with the injury bug. We just take it as an adversity, and a blessing is knocking at the door. We're just gonna overcome it."
He even acclimated quickly on his switch from safety to corner.
"I feel God blessed me with the ability to play corner and safety, so it wasn't that big a challenge. All off season I worked on my hip flexibility and db drills. It's not that big an adjustment for me."
Bellamy had one of the big hits in the NIU game, sacking their quarterback for a nine yard loss on a corner blitz. He says the key to that play is making sure the opponent doesn't anticipate his charge.
"I was just making sure I timed it up. I think that was the most important thing. Just time it up and don't give it away."
While he and his teammates were saddened by the injury to offensive guard Hugh Thornton, which fortunately proved less serious than first appeared, he says it didn't have an adverse effect on their play.
"Not at all. We just came together. It made us stronger. We tried to play for him even more."
To say Bellamy is a driven man in his final year of collegiate eligibility is an understatement. He plans to keep his nose to the grindstone throughout the bye week in preparation for Ohio State in two weeks.
"No days off, that's our mentality. Keep getting better. We're going to study the film, and Monday we're gonna correct the mistakes from this past game. We're gonna work on everything we need to work on to get ready for the Buckeyes. That's a big game, and we'll be ready."
Bellamy has benefitted greatly from new defensive coordinator and defensive back coach Vic Koenning.
"He's a great coach. I appreciate everything he's done. I really respect the way he coaches. He really cares about his players. He's a Christian, and I have high regards for Coach Koenning."
He has learned techniques that are helping him on the field.
"Yeah, such as three-step, little things here and there. Just focusing on details. He's improved not only my game but the whole secondary. As long as we're on the same page, everything's gonna be well."
Illinois head coach Ron Zook knows what Bellamy has gone through in his time on campus. He is grateful for the way things have worked out this season.
"I've been very, very pleased and happy and proud of Travon. There's a guy that I know there were some question marks last year. He had two shoulder operations, he had both done back-to-back. He doesn't seem to be (worried about it) right now. He's just having a great year, he really is."