Little Man Judson Has Big Plans

Legendary Illinois football coach Ray Eliot used to talk about the importance of courage in a football player. He would say the size of the heart is more important than the size of the body. If he were alive today, Eliot would no doubt use Will Judson as an example to prove his point.

Junior receiver Will Judson was a football and track star at Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Georgia, earning All-State as a kick returner and All-American in the 60m dash. He placed sixth in the national scholastic indoor championships in the 60m dash in New York. And he was ranked the 89th best cornerback in the nation by

Judson is listed at 5'-8" and 160 pounds, which may be generous. A lack of size hindered his chance for a major college football scholarship out of high school, so he opted to attend Florida A & M where he became a kick and punt returner as a freshman. He even played against Illinois in Memorial Stadium. When the FAMU program endured NCAA probation, Judson decided to transfer to Illinois. He explains his decision.

"I knew somebody named John Battle. He specialized in recruiting and knew Coach Locksley. I was set on going to the University of Arkansas at first, but then he told me to hold on and wait. He knew what's up at Illinois, that they were trying to bring in some speed to upgrade their program. So I came up here and checked it out."

Did he remember the Illinois game?

"Yes, I returned a couple of kicks, and offensively I got in on a couple of plays. They threw me the ball one time, but it wasn't complete."

It is never easy to join a school's football team without benefit of a scholarship. And out-of-state tuition can be extremely expensive. He endured two years complicated by injuries before coming into his own this fall. His improved play earned him a scholarship from Coach Ron Zook, and he is really happy about it.

"Yes, I've been working very hard."

Will has also been catching the ball better. Coach Zook mentioned that he encouraged Judson to have his eyes examined, and the resulting contacts have helped.

"I think that's part of the difference. But another thing that happened was I'm just getting my confidence back after having injuries these past couple of years. I was kind of down, but now I've got my confidence up. Of course, getting those contacts and getting my vision fixed helped too."

Judson received additional opportunities to show what he could do at the slot receiver when Arrelious Benn and Chris James suffered injuries in the first Rantoul scrimmage, and the coaches are learning to trust him and are finding ways to get him the ball where he can use his blazing speed.

"I prefer the slot. I think the matchups are better with me on the inside linebackers. I have a chance of getting open. It's actually easier to get the ball into my hands. At the next level, I would be in the slot anyway, so I think it is a better fit for me. And it's also fun to run the ball (on options and reverses). I'm a playmaker, and I just want to get the ball in my hands anytime and any way possible."

In the spring of 2005, he broke his hand and couldn't play receiver for awhile. So he switched to cornerback where he could add some depth while his hand was in a cast, and he showed his courage by making a couple hard hits in the secondary during the final spring game. Will defends himself strongly when someone suggests his lack of size is a hindrance for blocking and tackling.

"I know I can match up. It's all about having heart. I have enough heart that if I have to block a linebacker, I can get the block. I do whatever I have to do. I'm a football player."

Judson is also a candidate for the punt return and kick return jobs. There are presently a couple other players ahead of him, but he still hopes to do that also.

"I have a chance. You never know, somebody might get tired. That's how I got to return kicks at FAMU. Somebody got tired, so I went in there and broke a kick about 40 yards, and I was in there the rest of the year. So you never know what can happen, as far as that's concerned."

Will Judson has been here from the beginning of the Ron Zook era. What team improvements has he seen since then?

"The team swagger is up. We've got a lot more athleticism and speed. And the plays we couldn't make before, we're expected to make them all the time now. I just think it's going to be a rude awakening this year (for others).

"Yes, we're more confident. In the past, people didn't believe we could win. It was like, we have a chance, let's go out here and see what happens. But now we're actually saying, 'We're going to win this game. We are going to go out there, we're going to play hard and get it done.'"

Will is majoring in Sport Management with an eye toward an NFL career in management after his playing days are over.

"If I don't make it to the next level, I have a connection. My dad William Judson played ten years with the Miami Dolphins. He played cornerback. He blocked a kick against the '85 Bears when they went undefeated.

"I want to get into scouting and player personnel. So when I finish school, I'm going to look to intern with some NFL team, possibly scouting. And I want to work my way up to being a director of player personnel."

With newfound confidence and a scholarship earned the hard way, Will Judson is excited for his final two seasons of college ball. Don't be surprised to see #13 playing a prominent role.

" I'm definitely looking forward to it. I know when I get in there I'm going to make the best of it."

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