Fritz Rock Makes Impression On Offense

Fighting Illini football coaches made a few position changes for spring ball, and it appears they have worked out. One of those is redshirt freshman Fritz Rock, who moved from safety to receiver when injuries reduced depth there. After a solid spring, it appears Rock has found a position where he can flourish.

Fritz Rock was a late signee at Illinois last summer. He was stationed at safety all fall, but injuries to starting receivers A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines shortly before spring practice began forced Illini coaches to consider other possibilities. Was the change to receiver his idea?

"Not necessarily. I always wanted to go back just because that's where my heart was at. But I just want to believe what the coaches say. They wanted me to try it out and see how it went. Guys got hurt, so it was time for me to go over there and fill the spot.

"It was a late decision. It was right before spring ball started up. We were doing the winter program and working out. It was 6 am's where the coaches called me in and told me. I just said, 'I love to be back.' It was a good feeling."

The decision to redshirt last fall was difficult for him, but he now realizes the benefits.

"It was at first. I thought I wasn't doing what I had to at first, and I was kind of down about it. But having my brother there for me, and the coaches and players, just taught me I was going to get through it.

"I kind of felt good towards the end. Now I feel it was a good thing. I got a year under my belt, a year in the system, so I know more what to look for. So I feel comfortable coming into the next season."

Of course, he had to adapt quickly to a new position. It is far more complex than what he did at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota.

"It's a big learning curve. It's fast-paced, and a good coach like (Paul) Petrino is on you 24/7. You've got to be on your p's and q's with him."

Fortunately, he had plenty of friends offering encouragement.

"Being around the guys and them taking me in, I'm comfortable with it now. It's getting better every day."

Rock has a good understanding of his assets as a receiver.

"I have good hands, and I've got a great body. Having a bigger body, I can push guys off of me. Those are the things I have going for me."

He also showed aggressiveness running the ball after a catch, something Petrino preaches daily. Surprisingly, he uses a different style than in high school.

"In high school, I was a guy who would try to juke a couple guys, make them miss and go upfield. But coming here and getting bigger, I'm more of a possession receiver. So just catch the ball and make plays. I'm just trying to get through guys and make yards like he coaches me."

Naturally, the 6'-1", 210 pounder still has plenty to learn.

"I want to work on great route running, going up and getting the ball and just playing fast. And being more explosive off the ball."

While Rock, who is considering a Communications degree, couldn't play in the Texas Bowl last December, it was a memorable experience for him.

"It was a great feeling. Now I know what a bowl feeling is like. Now we're just trying to get better and better to get to a bigger bowl. It makes me hungry."

Petrino saw some things he likes in his rookie receiver.

"For just coming over from db, he can catch the ball. He has good hands. He's had a ton of reps, so that's been good for him. He's a pretty big physical guy, so he'll have a little burst at some point."

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