Church in Familiar Terrain

Devin Church says he doesn't mind the extra workload created by practicing at both tailback and wideout.

CHAMPAIGN – It didn't take long for the coaching staff to hone in on a tailback replacement for recently dismissed Dami Ayoola.

Sending Devin Church to the backfield made too much sense.

The redshirt freshman starred at tailback in high school for Brother Rice (Southfield, Mich.), setting a school record with 1,919 yards as a senior.

So when it became clear earlier this week Ayoola would no longer be on the team, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit sought out Church rather quickly.

"He just basically told me I was probably one of the best choices to go back there," Church said of that conversation. "That's where I've been."

Given his 5-foot-8 frame and shifty skill set, Church was pegged as a wideout after arriving in Champaign last year. He was most likely going to play in 2012 before a knee injury in a fall camp scrimmage forced both surgery and season-long sideline status.

"Very, very frustrating just to go through an injury like that," he said. "I recovered through it and now I'm 100 percent. I feel better than ever now."

He entered this season as a name in a crowded room full of wideouts. Still, Church's quickness and speed carved out a niche and his background as a tailback opened up even more options for him to get game reps.

He says he'll still get looks at receiver, but now he's practicing and preparing as a Josh Ferguson-type, a tailback with wide receiver options instead of vice versa.

"I know pretty much I've been told what Ferguson is doing, know that position," Church said. "I know the receiver. I know the running back. I think I'm going to be split out, and I'm going to be playing in the backfield. I'm ready for it. I know both positions."

Running backs coach Tim Salem doesn't seem at all concerned about Church's transition on the fly. Salem, like everybody else polled, reminded reporters that, yes, Church played running back in high school.

"It's like all kids, it's kind of second nature," Salem said. "Players are players. You can tell he's got a little feel back, a little flavor for kind of cutting through some holes.

"He would be the same type body (as Ferguson), the quickness, the little jitterbug dude, if you can't touch him how can you tackle him? Maybe right now not as strong as (Ferguson), but he came off his knee injury that was sustained a year ago August, has worked hard and had a good summer, good camp and played a lot of receiver for us in August."

So how did it go the first couple days in practice? Starter Donovonn Young said Church did fine and was quick to point out that, "he played at running back in high school. I think he's done a great job of adapting to running back so quickly."

That was the theme of the week – Church looked like a natural because, well, he's a natural.

For Church, the whole situation, though not ideal due to seeing a classmate forced to leave school, is exciting.

"Wherever I can get some playing time at," he said of why he's fine with playing two positions. "I know I'm still going to be doing reps at receiver, but if I can get some reps at running back that's what I'm going to do, too."

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