Whatever It Takes

Dami Ayoola had to prove to his teammates and coaches he deserved a second chance. So far, so good.

CHAMPAIGN - Just how much does Dami Ayoola want to play football for Illinois?

Would he stick around for six months with no guarantee of returning? Would he do everything Coach Tim Beckman laid out on the path to redemption?

Would he pay his own way until all was good?

So far the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product, dismissed from the team last September, has provided positive answers for all those questions and more.

Ayoola's putting in the required measures to make it back, even paying his own tuition for the time being.

"He's still in the process of proving his willingness to be on this football team," Beckman said. "He will be involved in everything that we involve all of our student athletes, but he's still in that proving process to this football team and to the coaching staff his willingness to do the things that we think are necessary to be a quality student-athlete."

Many attempts to reach Ayoola during his time away from the team were unsuccessful. Discovering his next destination was the intention for calling, but he wasn't answering the phone and the story faded as the season wore on. People kept seeing the tailback on campus. If he was looking for a new place to play, he was doing so while still going to class at Illinois. Then basketball star Rayvonte Rice tweeted words of encouragement and hinted about a potential return in late November. It became clear that Ayoola wasn't looking to leave.

It couldn't have been an easy time for Ayoola. And it won't get any easier. But he's close to restoring his status on the team and redeeming himself for a mistake that nearly cut his career, at least the one in Illinois Orange and Blue, short.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is glad to see the kid return. He says Ayoola was in the race to be the starter before his misstep.

"I thought when you watched him (last) spring overall you could make a case," Cubit said, noting Ayoola's pass protection and route running that supplement his resume.

Now a year later, this spring is much more important. The potential Ayoola flashed as a freshman is now two seasons in the rearview. All eyes will be on him.

"He's got a long way to come now because he's been out a year," Cubit said. "He's got to get his act together off the field and on the field, too. These kids have been training here for six months and he hasn't been doing it. I'm glad he's back. He's a good kid, but he's got some work to do. I have confidence in him."

Confidence is earned and so far Ayoola has done everything asked. According to Beckman Ayoola will take part in spring drills, though with limited reps. The situation will be re-evaluated in May, with reinstatement in order if Ayoola continues on his current track.

"He's doing everything to prove that he wants to be involved with this football program," Beckman said.

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