Freshman Tight End Seeing More Playing Time

A year ago spring, the Illini were scrambling to form a tight end group. Now, tight end is one of the strongest positions on the team. Two precocious freshmen have added athleticism to the group, including Kentucky stalwart Jon Davis. The youngster is already seeing playing time and will become more involved with each passing game. His future is bright.

Jon Davis had a last minute change of heart, decommitting from home state Kentucky and signing with Illinois. He doesn't regret his decision.

"Nothing against Kentucky, but I'm glad to be here. I'm happy with the choice I made. I had a good summer."

Davis was used in a variety of ways at Middleton Eastern High School. He was a running back and receiver, impressing with his speed and aggressiveness. Knowing he had to bulk up to play tight end as an Illini, he took advantage of the summer conditioning program.

"I gained 10 pounds in the summer. I weigh 235 now."

The extra strength and size helps with blocking, which he rarely had to do in high school.

"Obviously I've got to work on my blocking skills as a tight end or H-back. I've never played the position before. I'm getting better every day."

The Illini seek to take advantage of his unique receiving and running skills in addition to his size and strength.

"They are using me at the H-back position, which is split out a little more than a tight end. But they put me at tight end too, so I have to work at both spots."

Have they talked about letting him run the ball at some point?

"Not yet. Hopefully later in my career, if I can be good enough with the ball in my hands, they might give it to me. But it's down the road. Until then, I'm just trying to learn the offense."

Davis believes the Illini offense fits his talents.

"I really like the offense because it's not just one or two plays. We've got a number of different formations and plays. It's like an NFL-style offense. It hasn't been easy learning everything due to the depth of plays we have."

It has also taken awhile to acclimate to the speed of the game.

"The games are much faster (than practice). Everybody's full go. You can definitely see a difference from the scrimmages. It's always an adjustment for everybody. I'm getting used to it."

Three pass plays were called for Davis in the South Dakota State game, and he caught one pass. But he wasn't able to free himself the other two times. It is harder to get open in college.

"Yeah, especially when you're not the number one route or go-to guy every time. You've just got to work that much harder to get open."

He was also the go-to guy on the gutsy 4th and 1 play at a key moment in the Arizona State game. Offset in a tight run formation, Davis was to sprint downfield for a long bomb that might have put the game away. Instead he was held at the line, and the play failed.

But there will be other opportunities for the athletic Davis. Tight end coach Chip Long is thrilled with his progress.

"He's doing really well. It's really exciting. Just this last week he had his best week of practice. He's gonna be a great player."

Davis has plenty of competition for playing time. Evan Wilson, Eddie Viliunas, Matt LaCosse and Justin Lattimore have all seen action one time or another. And Zach Becker did before his most recent injury. It makes Davis work harder.

"We have some pretty good practices with all the talent at the position. Competition is making everybody better."

He and fellow freshman LaCosse are a rare combination of size and speed, and they appear destined to make tight end a featured position at Illinois in the future.

"They're both starting to get used to it, used to the routine and used to the position," Long explains. "They've never been in a three point stance. They're both really hard workers and great kids. They're a lot of fun to coach.

"Both can run, they're not afraid of contact and they love to play. You like coaching those kind of guys. We've got to get them in the game more. The more they progress, the better they play."

Davis is focused on team more than self.

"We're off to a good start. I just want to keep it up and keep winning."

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