Pass-Rushing Demon Davis Tough To Block

It has been a productive and successful season for junior defensive end Will Davis. An unheralded member of Ron Zook's first recruiting class, Will was named to the All-Big Ten second team while also receiving the Outstanding Defensive Lineman Award by the Illini staff.

Davis did not begin his Illini career on defense, as defensive line coach Tom Sims described humorously in his presentation speech at the 106th annual Illini Football Banquet.

"It isn't often you find a defensive lineman who started his career as a wide receiver," Sims said. "A wide receiver. He was probably on his way to being one of the all-time greats at the position, until they threw him the ball. That's when he moved to defense. But he may eventually end up as one of the all-time greats at his position."

For the season, Will Davis was credited with 39 total tackles, 27 being solo tackles. Sharing time with Doug Pilcher, Will became a passing down specialist due to his speed rushing the quarterback. He led the team with 9.5 sacks for 45 yards in losses, and he had three additional tackles for loss for an additional 11 yards. He was credited with 7 quarterback hurries and forced one fumble. All this despite a couple minor leg injuries that reduced his speed at times.

A native of Greenbelt, Maryland, Will was pleased but humbled by his Big Ten award.

"I'm happy about it, but we've still got a game to play, so hopefully we can show what we can do. The whole D-line deserves second team in the Big Ten, so that award is for everybody on the D-line."

Davis has worked hard to evolve from a 205 pound receiver to a 245 pound defensive end. And he has spent countless hours perfecting the techniques of his defensive end position. But he refuses to focus credit upon himself.

"Yes, sir (I've worked hard). So have all of us. A lot of things happened. If it wasn't for us doing the right things, I probably wouldn't have made the plays. I'm just thankful for them (his teammates).

Davis credits film study with much of his success.

"We study everything down to the way they (offensive linemen) have their stance set up and to the way they come off the ball. Sometimes we know what is going to happen before the play happens. And that all comes from studying tape."

At his present weight, Will has one major disadvantage. He is somewhat undersized compared with his peers around the Big Ten. Like Illinois fans learned while watching former Illini Simeon Rice, the best way to neutralize a speed rusher is to run right at him. Giants like Michigan's future pro Jake Long line up across from him. So Davis' explanation for the biggest thing he has learned this year is not surprising.

"It's a physical game. Every time you step in the game, you've got to be physical. The first thing before you can try to get that quarterback, you have to stop the run. Every team is going to try to run on you, so it's going to be dictated by the run."

Will Davis has one more year ahead of him, so he will undoubtedly continue to gain strength and savvy. And he will continue to demonstrate that Coach Zook's recruiting pitch to him was right on target.

"When I was being recruited, Coach Zook said we were going to lay a foundation to come here and turn this program around. We believed in everything he said. We believed even when we were losing.

"Coach kept on telling us we were going the right way. Keep on trusting him and we'll be where we need to be. So I'm just happy we got there eventually."

Will has been joined at Illinois by teammate Travon Bellamy, who lettered as a freshman safety but sat out this past season due to shoulder surgery. And two more outstanding players from his Eleanor Roosevelt High School made official visits to Illinois recently. So don't be surprised if his legacy as a recruiter continues to match his ability as a player.

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