Sack Specialist Davis Latest Illini Star

The Illinois football team held a sack party in Bloomington, Indiana Saturday. En route to a 27-14 win over the Indiana Hoosiers, the Illini sacked elusive quarterback Kellen Lewis seven times, including an amazing four from rising star Will Davis, a junior defensive end whose play has fans buzzing.

A product of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, Davis began his college career as a 6'-3", 205 pound tight end and wide receiver. He had been a first team All-Stater and a member of the Super Prep top-25 team as a receiver and defensive end. He lettered as a freshman at Illinois, but he was an undersized tight end who struggled at times.

He was moved to defensive end after that and began to show promise due to his excellent quickness. Will was credited with 18 tackles as a sophomore in 2006 and had 2 sacks among his 3.5 tackles for loss. But he was still undersized for a Big Ten defensive end.

However, Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez helped Davis take care of that.

"Yeah, Lou's done a great job. I weigh 250 right now. About 260 will be the highest weight I'll go to keep my speed. My speed helps me run at this size. I run great right now, so I don't think I need to gain that much weight. A lot is technique."

Davis has no second thoughts about his move to defense.

"Yeah, I'm real glad I made the move. It's more reaction over here than thinking. You don't have to think, you just play and have fun. I really like the defensive side of the ball, I did in high school also."

Some have wondered whether Davis is still undersized for the position, given how many defensive ends these days are much bulkier. But Will believes his speed gives him an advantage, even when opponents run right at him.

"No, I come off the ball fast. They're not expecting it, so they fall back. It's not about how big they are or how small I am."

Speaking prior to the Indiana game, Davis was happy with his play at Syracuse.

"I had 1 and a half sacks at Syracuse. Yes sir, that made me feel good. I practiced all summer coming off the man's shoulder, just coming off as fast as I can."

That game became a springboard for his amazing four sacks against Indiana. Will attributes much of his success to his defensive line coach Tom Sims.

"(Sims) is the best coach I've been coached by. He's down to earth, he's a player's coach. You can talk to him about what you need to do to get better, and he'll tell you right there what you need to do to get better, what you need to work on, your strengths and your weaknesses.

"He basically taught us through spring and also through camp to go hard off the ball every time. We've worked so hard. Basically, it is all technique and hard work. As long as we focus and play hard, everything is going to fall into place."

Will Davis said his technique for the Indiana game required primarily a bull rush, keeping quarterback Lewis within view and being able to adjust quickly inside or outside depending on which direction the quarterback moved. But he was still able to be aggressive despite certain precautions.

"I wouldn't say it eliminates my aggressiveness. It makes me get a look within that defensive play. You've got to know exactly what play, you know, what play is contain, contain, contain, and what plays you can really let loose and somebody will cover you. Once it is contain, you have to make sure you get out there and not get beaten but get in the quarterback's face. But on the ones they say 'go free and do what you want to do,' you just go out there and basically try to get them."

Now in his third season, Will Davis is surprised at how fast the time has gone. But he definitely has seen growth on the team since his humble beginnings.

"When I first got here, there were people going into games saying, 'I hope we can win,' instead of worrying about what they were doing.

"We came into this season knowing everything. That's the biggest step we've made. Everyone knew the plays, so we didn't have to spend so much time teaching. We have a few freshmen in there who need to learn, but mostly we just have to focus. Now, we feel like we can beat anybody. We feel like we can go 11-1 right now. We genuinely feel that. I think that's the biggest difference."

Davis and Illini cornerback Travon Bellamy are both products of the same high school. Eleanor Roosevelt is a bigtime program that produces a large number of college-level players. Davis attributes much of his school's success to its coach.

"Yes, sir. There's a lot of good athletes. In our summer program, our high school coach gets us ready because he works us so hard. I like to say we're the hardest working team in Maryland during the summer."

Will Davis is majoring in Community Health, and he is in the process of deciding what to do with that degree once his playing days are over.

"I'd love to be like a sports trainer or go to medical school. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do yet, but it's going to be along those lines."

"Will Davis and our d-line did a great job," stated star middle linebacker J. Leman after the Indiana game.

Given his ability and motivation, Illini fans can look forward to seeing more good games from Will Davis this season and next year.

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