Duvalt Excited About New Start At Wideout

Spring is a time for experimentation. The Fighting Illini football team is looking to bolster its receiving corps, and one player eager to fill the gap is Chris Duvalt. So far, the move seems to be working out well for the erstwhile cornerback and kick return specialist.

Chris Duvalt came to Illinois two years ago from Lake Gibson high school in Lakeland, Florida, as a PrepStar All-American and ranked the 25th best cornerback in the nation by one scouting service. Possessor of a blisteringly-fast 4.38 forty yard dash time, Chris looked like a cinch member of the Illini defensive backfield.

But while he saw action in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns, he found himself behind cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Dere Hicks. Duvalt looked much improved last fall during Camp Rantoul and seemed to intercept at least one pass every practice. And he was chosen as a kick returner for the Missouri opener.

Unfortunately, that Missouri game had a deleterious effect on Chris' season, as he explains.

"I fumbled against Missouri, and it deflated me after that because I felt I lost the game for us. I put a big burden on my back from that game. I just felt like I buried myself, really. There was nothing the coaches could do, I was just mad at myself for the rest of the season. So I want to make up for lost time now."

Chris made the decision to switch to wide receiver about a month ago. He explains his reasoning.

"The coaches mentioned it, but it was mainly my idea. I saw that our wide receiver position was real weak since we lost a lot of seniors, and I know I can play wide receiver."

Duvalt sees this as a chance to wipe away the past and gain a new start.

"Yes, I feel very refreshed on offense now. I feel I have a better opportunity. I feel I had an opportunity at corner, but now I even feel more confident about me getting on the field playing wide receiver. I feel good. I'm still making a lot of mistakes, but with time that'll go away and I'll be all right."

Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley joked about why Chris seems to be picking things up so quickly.

"I'm really pleased with how much he knew. Obviously, it showed that being a defensive back he was stealing the signals because he picked things up pretty easily."

Duvalt agrees only partially with Locksley.

"I knew a couple of the signals, but not all of them. It's tough to learn the playbook. It was tough today (Friday). I made a couple minor mistakes, but I'll get it corrected on film tonight and be fine tomorrow."

Duvalt weighed only 154 when he arrived on campus as a freshman, but he has gained 22 pounds to his present weight of 176. He knows he will have to gain separation from some strong, physical corners in the Big Ten, but he believes he can handle it.

"I think I'm going to use my quickness because I feel I have a lot of that. I'm pretty strong to be a small guy, so I'm very confident of getting off the line against big guys."

Quarterback Juice Williams likes what he sees so far.

"(Chris Duvalt) caught a bunch of passes today. He's got some wiggle to him too. He's a good addition. He knows defensive tendencies too. He knows how corners like to play, so that will definitely benefit him this season."

That cornerback experience is already proving itself valuable as Duvalt is especially adept at coming back on the ball to reach it before the cornerback can interfere.

"I played wide receiver in high school, but coming back on the ball is just me, from the defensive side. As a defensive back, to intercept the ball you have to go and get it and not wait for it. So that's just instinct winning out."

Chris looks forward to competing against his cornerback friends in spring ball.

"The db's are always clowning about the move, man. They call me a traitor. But hey, I'm gonna get around them and make them pay for it once we get the pads on. As a receiver, you've got to stay confident, stay on your game."

Duvalt is eager to make up for last year by volunteering again for kickoff duties, and he is adding punt returns to his practice schedule.

"Yes, I've been working on that in the offseason, working on catching my kicks and tucking the ball away. They tell me that receiving punts is going to help me with my kickoff returns, securing the ball, securing the catch. So I'm willing to give it a shot."

The Recreation, Sports and Tourism major is considered a team jokester.

"I'm a comedian type. I try to keep everybody smiling. I'm like the heart of the team. When everybody's down, I try to jazz them up with a joke or something funny, mocking a coach or something."

The team undoubtedly missed Chris Duvalt's effervescent personality in the locker last year as he suffered from his Missouri mistake. But with this new lease on life, the Illini can profit both from Chris' outstanding athleticism on the field and his personality off it.

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