Bigger, Stronger Davis A Sack Machine

Illinois' defensive ends lived up to their press clippings in Saturday's final spring scrimmage. Six different ends combined to share nine quarterback sacks on the day. But for all the praise, the one who still stands above the rest in terms of talent and pro potential is Will Davis.

Davis played receiver and tight end his freshman year, but Coach Ron Zook wishes Will would have skipped offense entirely.

"I would have put him there (defense) in the beginning. Coach Locks (Mike Locksley) wanted to look at him at tight end. But I'm not going to move a guy unless he wants to do it. Otherwise, it doesn't do any good to do it."

After mixed results on offense, the graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt high school in Greenbelt, Maryland, accepted the switch to defense. And his growth since then has been spectacular. Known for his speed off the edge, Will has become a terror for opposing quarterbacks. Last year, he ranked sixth in the Big Ten and 26th in the nation in sacks per game.

The only problem for Davis last year was a lack of strength and bulk. He worked to overcome that problem in the offseason, and he reported to spring practice at a pumped up 267 pounds.

"At the Rose Bowl, I was at about 250," explained Davis the first day of spring ball. "I've put on most of the extra weight in the offseason. This is just from working hard. They said they wanted to see how I move with it, and I'm feeling good.

"If it slows me down, I'm going to take it off. The extra strength will help me tremendously. The coaches tell me that if I can keep my same speed at this size, I will be unstoppable. That's the whole goal of the d-line, to be dominant."

Asked at the end of spring ball whether he kept his speed with the extra bulk, Will answered in the affirmative.

"Yeah, yeah. I showed it to the coaches, and so far they've been proud of what I've been doing. So hopefully I keep it up.

"I was working on power. When you have speed and power, you are unstoppable. That's basically what the weight was for. If I keep the same speed and the same power, I've got a lot of moves and ways of getting to the quarterback now with the extra weight."

Opposing linemen and quarterbacks will be less than thrilled to hear Davis's success story. In fact, his comments about the Illinois defense in general might just scare them a little.

"Our defense is just dominating. That's the key thing we wanted to come out and do. The defensive line, the whole defense really, including the dbs and the linebackers. It's looking good right now."

Will Davis is confident about his defense, but he doesn't want fans to downgrade the Illini offense, especially the offensive line.

"The offensive line is doing good also. They give us a good challenge. Coach Zook always tells us there's going to be ups and downs in games, and there's still lots of mistakes we have to fix. But overall, we're dominant."

Will was one of the first three players to arrive at Illinois from the Washington, D. C.-Maryland area since Zook arrived. There are now 13 on the roster. He has a ready explanation.

"First of all, it's a good program and good school. They make you feel like it's home. They make you feel like its still D. C. or Maryland. They get close to us, and we end up coming here because they're so close to us."

Will we see more great players from there in the future?

"Yeah, I wouldn't see why not. It's like D. C. and Maryland up here, and everybody from there is real close, just like a family up here. Coach Locksley loves getting guys from Maryland to this area. He knows how good we are. I knew a couple guys would come. I didn't know this many. I know a couple more will come."

Obviously, there is an adjustment period as young men accustomed to a large city and suburban environment become transplanted to a smaller college town. But Davis puts it in a proper perspective.

"It's a little bit difficult adjustment. But I talk to people from Chicago who say it's a big adjustment coming down here to Champaign. There's so many Maryland-D. C. guys here, we just make it feel at home. We have fun and everything just like we're back home."

Will Davis hopes to have a lot more fun roaming in opponents' offensive backfields this fall. With continued success, he has a chance for a long and distinguished pro career as well.

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