Henry Dickinson has been playing all fall for Illinois as a true freshman. Last Saturday, he backed Houston Bates and Ian Thomas at inside linebacker and was praised by defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Vic Koenning afterward.
"Dickinson graded extremely high. He was where he was supposed to be. He didn't necessarily make that many plays, but he was where he was supposed to be."
Dickinson was seeing time with special teams prior to that game, but he was called to action with the defense after starter Jonathan Brown was suspended for the game. He was ready when called upon.
"Each week I go into it with the same mentality. At any time someone could go down, and if I'm the backup, I need to be ready. I'm just a little more focused. Coach Vic does a great job of preparing us each week, so it isn't overwhelming or anything. The speed was fine."
He has appreciated the assistance of Brown and senior middle linebacker Ian Thomas.
"I need to learn the details and the little niches of things. Ian and Jonathan have done a great job so far taking me under their wing and answering any questions I have for them. I need to take advantage of learning from them since they're both great linebackers.
"Jon told me just to stick to the playbook, relax, and go out and do my thing. He said I've been preparing all week, and now it was time to just go execute."
For those unfamiliar with his game, Dickinson provides a description of his abilities.
"Being physical at the point of attack, using my length to get off blocks. And then in the passing game, being able to drop and cover some guys. I like the pass rush. I'm pretty good at either coming off the edge or up the middle. I can make a move and get to the quarterback."
The Memphis University High School grad is familiar with the pass rush. He was recruited initially as a Bandit, but Illini coaches liked his play in the middle so much they moved him.
"When I was originally recruited off my junior film, I was mostly in coverage and blitzing. Based on my senior film, they decided to switch me to inside linebacker, which I prefer. I'm more inside the box to stop the run."
He wants to learn the playbook better, which will come with time. He also realizes the importance of footwork at the college level.
"The thing I need to work on is making sure the initial read step is right. Sometimes the first couple steps hinder me for the rest of the play."
The Illini hope to develop a recruiting pipeline to talent-rich Memphis. The Business major was a pioneer in that regard. Why did he choose Illinois?
"A lot of it was a sense of being at home here. The coaching staff's real friendly, and I love the scheme. When I came up here on my unofficial visit, it felt like the place to be. And it has the academics to back up everything else."
He is also pleased to be part of the linebacker tradition begun by greats Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and many others.
"It's an honor to play at the same school as those guys. I'm following in their footsteps. It give me more motivation."
The 6'-4", 230 pounder has developed rapidly since the beginning of summer.
"I feel pretty good coming up here. I've put on 20 pounds by staying in the weight room and making sure I get all my meals in. It's a little different weather, but it's nice in the summer. So it's a pretty good adjustment so far.
"I feel like the weight has really helped me. That and the running. I understand the playbook a lot better, and I'm getting a better feel for the flow and speed of the game."
Making his transition complete is his respect for the Illini coaching staff.
"I like their philosophy. They'll get on you, but they also have a fun side to keep things light. It's good."
It sounds like an ideal arrangement for the team and Dickinson. If he continues to improve at his present rate, the future is bright indeed.