Some might be unaware of Illinois receiver Darius Millines. The sophomore caught only two passes last fall for 42 yards and one touchdown. He sat out spring ball with a stress fracture in his foot. Yet few doubt Millines will be a starter and valuable contributor in 2011.
Speaking after the first fall practice, Millines was asked how he feels after a spring of uncertainty.
"I've got to get back into it. I haven't practiced in a real practice since the Texas Bowl."
How long did it take for full recovery once spring ball ended?
"I'd say a full month. I had to get back into all the routes, pushing off with my foot. It took time."
Illini health professionals allowed Millines to return gradually once healing was insured. Was he able to get his confidence back?
"I was able to do that. They had me catching a lot of balls in the spring. Nate would throw me the ball, and I would just catch it. I didn't do any running."
Now that he's healthy again, the 5'-11", 185 pounder still needs one important ingredient.
"I just have to get my mental toughness back. That's what I'm working on right now."
Always a team player, Millines is excited for the start of the season. He is especially enthused about the potential of the offense.
"We look real good. It's all coming together. I think we're gonna be very explosive and hard to stop."
No position is better fortified than the three receiver positions. Millines is a likely starter, but there are a number of returnees.
"We have depth everywhere. All our number ones have played, and the number twos are just as good as the number ones. So if someone goes down, we're gonna be in good shape. We have a lot of backups, that's the good thing."
The Boynton Beach, Florida, native likes the three rookie receivers also.
"The freshmen are coming along pretty well. You can tell they're still trying to get used to it. It's still fast to them. But so far they've done great. They've surprised me. They're not dropping many balls. They're getting a good burst and running good routes."
Millines had plenty of training as a blocker for American Heritage High School, and he willingly sacrifices his body to aid his teammates.
"We're gonna run the ball, so I'm gonna block and do my job. They're gonna do their job, and we're gonna win."
Besides two talented senior running backs, the Illini brought in a couple promising newcomers. Millines is impressed by the frosh.
"The freshmen running backs look good too. Just like receivers, we can all back each other up. We won't miss a beat."
More than anything, Millines is eager to see his entire team in action this fall. He says the confidence built last year plus spring ball has continued to expand.
"Yes. We had a pretty good spring, so coming out of spring everybody worked hard. During the summer we just kept grinding, and now it's time for us to be where we want to be: Big 10 champions and go to another bowl game and win it."
Adding to the optimism of the offense is a group of leaders the rest of the team respects.