Illinois weakside linebacker Jonathan Brown lettered as a true freshman in 2010. In part-time duty, he accumulated 31 tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception he returned 66 yards. That was a memorable introduction to college ball, and it occurred despite a lack of ideal conditioning.
"I've lost 20 pounds since I arrived on campus. Right now, I'm at 225. Last year, it was one of those things where you're home and eating."
Brown was born to play linebacker.
"Yeah, I love the linebacker position. I've been playing it all my life. It's really second nature."
He describes his best assets as if reading from a book on ideal linebacker play.
"I would say my nose for the ball, my linebacker instincts and my football IQ."
Of course, his indoctrination to college ball pointed out what he must improve.
"I want to work on speed and being more aggressive. This is the Big 10, and the linemen are a whole lot bigger. I found that out last year. So I want to work on lateral movement and going downhill."
The value of playing as a freshman is the experiences that carry over to the following season.
"On the field, I can feel a little more confident compared to last season because I know the defense. I'm more comfortable with it this year. That's the biggest thing."
It also provides a maturity that encourages expanded responsibilities.
"I feel like I need to step up and be a leader and be an aggressive defense and know it in and out so next year I can be as comfortable as I want to be on the field."
Brown benefitted greatly from his Texas Bowl experience. It also reminded him what is possible in the future.
"It was a great experience, it was fun. It was a good bowl. But going down there made you hungry for a BCS bowl. That's something I really feel like we can accomplish. I think we're gonna shock a whole lot of people this year."
"We lost two great leaders last year, but we've got more coming in this year. Ian Thomas, Trulon (Henry), Tavon (Wilson), Akeem Spence on the d-line, all the guys are stepping up and being leaders. We've got a good corps on our defense. We'll step up and play to the best of our abilities this year."
The Memphis product believes another linebacker from his home town has a chance to play beside him this year. Henry Dickinson will be a freshman in 2011.
"I talked to Henry when I went home. Me and Henry are real cool. Henry has the potential to come in and help us out."
Brown sometimes becomes overly aggressive and gets retaliation penalties. The Illini are working to break him of that bad habit. He also needs academic reminders now and then. These are issues that often occur when someone tries to combine football and school at an early age according to Illini coach Ron Zook.
"Jonathan is a real good student. But sometimes he'll get a little lax there. We have to stay on them and make sure they do the things they have to do. His mom has been in touch with Kristin (Kane, Academic Counselor). We ask these guys to be just as good off the field as they are in the field."
Zook is confident Brown will eliminate these immaturity issues.
"I think everyone around knows that Jonathan has a chance to be a special guy. He had a good spring."