V For Victory; V For Vontae

Vontae Davis was a wide-eyed freshman defensive back a year ago for Illinois. Now,just one year later, he is being talked about as one of the best players in the Big Ten. Quite and ascent, but really just par for the course for this outstanding talent out of Washington, D.C.

The terms "Illinois defensive back" and "All-Big Ten" have not been found in the same sentence very much in recent years.

Only five times in the last 40 years, has an Illini cornerback or safety been named to the all-league team by both the media and the conference coaches. It's happened just once in the past 17 years, that coming in 2001 when Eugene Wilson earned first-team honors by both groups.

Vontae Davis wants to change that trend. The sophomore defensive back from Washington D.C. earned honorable mention all-conference recognition last year, and was also honored nationally with berths on the Freshman All-American teams for Scout.com and The Sporting News.com.

Impressive honors for a first-time player on a team that only managed two wins in 12 games a year ago.

"I felt that I was capable of playing well my first year. I just didn't know if it would be good enough," Davis said. "I have to give credit to the coaches who pushed me every week, especially my position coach [Curt Mallory] who got me ready to play every week and had me ready for game situations.

"That was a big plus by my coaches to push me and not let me ease through practice. They were on me and helped me get through the season, one week at a time."

Davis was a highly-recruited DB/receiver at Dunbar High School where he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the District of Columbia area. He had eight interceptions and 38 tackles and was an offensive threat with 25 pass receptions for 612 yards in his senior season.

"We had an idea about him. We had seen tape on him and he was a little under the recruiting radar," Illinois co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch said. "He wasn't one of those top guys but sometimes the best ones aren't.

"We had an idea he could be that good. Everybody knows that he has a chance to be something special. But he's still very young; remember, he's only played in 12 games for us. He just needs to keep working hard all the time."

By the Illini's season-opener last year against Eastern Illinois, Davis had earned a starting spot in the secondary. He responded by recording two tackles, one for a 3-yard loss and thwarted a Panther drive with an interception in the end zone.

That proved to be the only interception that Davis got during his freshman campaign, something he wants to improve on this fall. The 6-foot, 185-pounder is also looking to play with more discipline.

"I need to be more disciplined and I need to be a smarter player," he said. "Watching tapes will help but it's the play on the field when you get better. Having my freshman season behind me really helps because I learned a lot."

Davis started 11 games, all but the Ohio State game, last year. He finished with 52 tackles and was credited with breaking up six passes.

But more than statistics, his infectious desire to play hard and win appears to be rubbing off on others in the Illini secondary where three of the four starters from last year's group returns.

"Vontae loves to play football," Disch said. "He loves playing it, likes watching it, likes talking about it. He has some physical gifts that are about as good as anybody. He's got a chance – if he continues to progress and work at it – to be something really special."

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