Meet Your Illini: Darrius Caldwell

An unusual twist from the NCAA Clearinghouse forced an Illini freshman football player to be declared ineligible halfway through his rookie year despite being cleared initially. Defensive end Darrius Caldwell was unable to dress for games the last half of the 2011 season. He is now eligible again and competing for playing time. He talked about his first year on campus prior to the setback.

Darrius Caldwell is a promising defensive end from Atlanta, Georgia. Tall and slender, he needs time in the weight room. But the former Illinois coaching staff praised him as one of their top five redshirting freshmen. That is, before the NCAA Clearinghouse stepped in and declared him ineligible due to confusion over one course he took in high school.

Caldwell is a prospect worth following now that he is eligible again. He has the frame to put on considerable amounts of weight and strength, and he has the quickness off the edge all defensive line coaches seek.

Speaking last August after a productive summer on campus, Caldwell said he made progress during weight training sessions.

"Yes sir, that's been my biggest surprise. I've gained 20 pounds since I've been here. I'm 6'-5", 222."

Besides his slender physique, the Mays High School product needed a redshirt year to learn all the complexities of college defensive play.

"It's pretty hard picking up the plays. It makes my head spin. The biggest thing is getting in the playbook after the coaches have gone over it with you. The extra work you do is what's gonna put you over the top."

He's benefitted from assistance provided by Illini upperclassmen.

"I think we have some great athletes on defense. The older players are very knowledgeable of the playbook and the game itself. Me learning from them is gonna help me in the long run."

He shared the parts of his game he wants to improve the most.

"Basically, getting my assignments down. And probably the smart things such as hand placement and footwork. I never realized how much that affected my game until I got here."

It takes time to learn how to win line battles at the snap. Those with the quickest hands and feet who can slow the game down mentally have the best chance of success.

"It's so quick that your first mistake can lead to a busted play because everyone's assignment counts. If one player messes up, it can mess the whole defense up."

He must also compensate for athletic offensive linemen.

"Guys on offense are quicker than high school. Guys such as Hugh (Thornton) and Jack (Cornell) are big, but they're also quick for their size."

The Psychology major has adjusted more rapidly to the climate in Champaign than some might have thought.

"I think people underestimate the heat here in Illinois. It gets pretty hot. People think that life in Georgia and the South is slow, but it's actually not. The speed of the city or the town is pretty much the same, if not slower."

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