NFL scouts have been watching Illinois cornerback Tavon Wilson, and he has enjoyed his best season in his final year. Hopefully he can continue his game in the pro ranks. But that is in the future. Right now, he has the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game to play, and he is pleased to have another game with his Illini teammates.
"It feels great. We get to spend a couple days in California having fun with your teammates. I think it's a great opportunity for us to go out there and do what we do best."
Interim head coach Vic Koenning has been doing a great job helping the players overcome their frustrations of six straight losses and the firing of head coach Ron Zook. Wilson is confident Koenning's efforts are working.
"It's been very exciting. We've been through a lot of tough times the past couple of weeks. We're just gonna go out there and do the best we can and be excited to be there. We feel like the team that's most excited to be there will be the team that wins."
Wilson has been especially close to Koenning in his two seasons at Illinois. He is impressed with his coach's efforts at reuniting a team in turmoil.
"The biggest thing is he's trying to make everything fun and player-driven. He's trying to put everything on the players so we can make some decisions. That's big on a player-driven team, and Coach Vic has done a great job of that. Coach Zook did a great job of that also, but Coach Vic kind of took it to another level.
"Everyone's on board. Everyone wants to give everything they have. That's what Coach Vic demands, that's what our leaders demand. That's what we're gonna do."
All but one of the Illini assistant coaches have stayed around to coach in the bowl. Wilson is especially grateful for their dedication and wants to play his best for them.
"I really appreciate these coaches staying around for my last game. They hung in there with us. I really want to win for those guys. And I want to do something this program has never done. We're trying to make history."
Yes, winning two straight bowl games would be a program first. But more than that, Wilson cares about his younger teammates and the Illini program in general after he leaves campus. He knows a win will help next year's team.
"Last year, we took the bowl game as a jump-start to the next year. We feel like it helped us. I'm gonna do everything in my power to help the guys going into next year.
"It's a new staff, but your last game does a lot for your confidence. It makes you feel good about yourself going into the off season and makes you want to take the next step the next year."
What will it take to slow down the potent UCLA offense?
"I feel like they've got a lot of good athletes. They spread the ball around a lot. They don't have huge numbers, but we feel like all of them are good players and great athletes. If we do what we have to do, we'll be fine."