Matt LaCosse caught only one pass last year for Illinois as a true freshman. But he flashed tremendous potential and figures much more prominently in 2012. His speed, aggressiveness and pass receiving ability combine to make him a versatile, important member of the Illini team.
"They're asking me to do a lot of stuff. I've been split out, I've been in the slot, and I've been in the traditional tight end spot too. My role has expanded greatly, and I'm really looking forward to it."
A winter and spring of weight training has paid off for the 6'-6" Naperville North product.
"I'm up to 250 pounds now. I was 220 when I got here, and I feel a lot stronger now. Surprisingly, I feel like I've even gotten faster. I lost a lot of fat and gained a lot of muscle, so that was good."
He now looks like a tight end, and he understands his role.
"I feel like I've finally adapted to the new position all the way since I was a quarterback in high school."
College players often make big jumps between their freshman and sophomore years, and LaCosse is no exception.
"Mentally, I'm a lot further ahead. I was used to being bigger and faster than everyone in high school, and I came here and thought I could do a little of the same.
"But now that I've gotten into my role, I come to practice early, get some extra film in, and just do more for my overall mental preparation."
That maturity allows him to learn quickly from his tight end coach.
"Coach (Alex) Golesh is working on the same thing with pretty much all the tight ends. First of all, you have to be a great blocker in this offense to get playing time.
"Second, you have to be a playmaker. In this offense, you get a lot of one-on-one matchups, and if you win the one-on-one matchups, you get playing time."
With his combination of skill and athleticism, it is highly likely LaCosse will someday be a candidate for the NFL.
"I feel like I'm more of a playmaking tight end. I can stretch the field with my speed. When I have to go block someone, I can get that done too."
The Illini figure to benefit for the next three years.