Justin Green, a former Kentucky state dash champion, was recruited to play running back. He was moved to defense a couple years ago when a rash of injuries depleted the defensive backfield. It has taken him awhile to mature into the position, but he's ready to have a highly productive senior season.
Green was listed as one of three starters at cornerback in 2011, but he played behind Tavon Wilson except when Wilson was needed at nickel back. He is pleased finally to be listed as a definite starter.
"It feels real good. But with that comes responsibility and a lot of work. I have to keep studying and working to keep that job."
Green and Terry Hawthorne are experienced seniors at cornerback, but they have only two backups: senior Jack Ramsey and redshirt freshman Eaton Spence. Three true freshmen join them this summer, but it is essential the seniors remain healthy and productive.
"Definitely. We have to take care of our bodies and stay healthy. We have some guys who will step up and surprise a lot of people. But compared to last year, the numbers are down. We don't have as much experience, but we definitely have a lot of talent."
Green has at times been frustrated by changes in his position and among the coaching staff. But he seems pleased with the new staff.
"I like Coach (Steve) Clinkscale so far. He's definitely a great coach. He makes us work and keeps us humble. The new staff is positive about everything. They care about us as individuals, so that means a whole lot to me."
Everything within the Illinois football program is new this year, and Green feels good about Illini progress with the new system. That began with winter conditioning.
"Winter conditioning was real good for us. I think for the most part, we had everybody healthy. We had a couple guys get dinged up, but I don't think we had anything too major. That's the thing I look at most."
Was the experience different than what has come before?
"Basically, this year wasn't much different than the previous years. We had a whole lot of competitions. The thing about Coach (Tim) Beckman, we compete in everything. I think that keeps things lively."
The 190 pounder also sees many weight training similarities with the previous coaching staff.
"We pretty much do the same stuff. It's just a little bit more disciplined and more strict. But its essentially the same stuff."
One big reason for optimism this year is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win over UCLA. It boosted spirits for a team devastated by six losses to end the 2011 regular season.
"It helped us a whole lot. It will carry over into next year. Hopefully we can keep that same style of play. After those six losses, everyone's head was everywhere. Now that we've got that win, we know that we can win games. We do have that potential to play at a high level."