Pry Developing Talented Pass-Catchers

What a change a year makes. Last year, Illini assistant coach Jim Pry was searching far and wide for tight ends and inside receivers to coach. Now, he is blessed with several quality athletes at each position. And no one is happier about that then Coach Pry.

"It's fun," understates Pry. "We've got some quantity for a change instead of hunting for guys to get in there. We're getting a feel for who came back ready to play. Rejus (Arrelious Benn), Oh-Oh (Michael Hoomanawanui) and those guys are fired up and ready to go."

Last year, there were only two tight ends available to the inside receivers coach, and Tom Sullivan was a walkon. Now he has four, led by the junior Hoomanawanui, and he sees them becoming much more involved in the pass offense.

"He (Hoomanawanui) is stronger, he moves better, and he's really progressed a lot through the offseason. We're trying to get him the ball more. He's a pass runner, he's worked hard on running routes.

"In the spring, he was one biscuit away from being a tackle. He knew he was gonna lose weight coming into camp, and you can see that he gets a little faster and more controlled every day. He's losing weight."

Pry is also high on his two new freshmen tight ends.

The young guys are doing well. London Davis has never been in a three-point stance, so that's an adventure for him. He's a day-to-day guy, but he's a tough guy. He's quick. Hubie Graham is a little bigger guy, a physical tight end. Those guys are going to see the field for sure."

Graham was recruited by some top programs. He chose Illinois despite living in Northeast Pennsylvania, some distance from campus. Pry finds rugged, athletic players in that area of the country.

"Aggressive, hard-nosed, blue collar area. Not recruited hard, but it is by us. Except for the bigger cities, the whole of Pennsylvania is blue collar like railroads, steel mills, coal mines. And the kids are brought up tough. He (Graham) has been brought up that way. He's a big, bulky kid. He's got a way to go, of course, but he's gonna help us right now."

Arrelious Benn is a top-level slot receiver, but he was withheld from all contact as he protected a dislocated shoulder last season and this spring. He is a different player now, and nobody is more pleased than Jim Pry.

"For sure. He had that bottled up all spring. He's a player, a competitor, and now it's coming out."

Benn's competitive spirit and hunger for football shone brightly in the Rantoul High School scrimmage as he plowed over a defender to reach the ball into the end zone.

"That's exactly what I told him about getting into the end zone. That's wanting and smelling the end zone. Another play that night, he blocked three guys on one play that got us down to the one yard line. That's the kind of competitor he is."

Several other Illini have seen time at slot this fall as well. When the Illini use four receiver sets, this depth comes in handy.
"We've got a few guys back there. Marques Wilkins, Greg McClendon, (walkon) Alex Reavy's playing in that first group at wide when we go with four wide receivers. We've got a freshman Jack Ramsey who's really making an impact."

Decatur product Wilkens hasn't yet duplicated his high school achievements at Illinois, but he's improving. His ability to run after the catch has always been an asset, but he's added a measure of toughness to his game. He broke several tackles in the Rantoul High School scrimmage.

"He's doing better that way, making some runs after catching the ball. That is an improvement."

Pry is also high on freshman Jack Ramsey.

"He's got great hands, great quickness and great speed. We're hard on the freshmen particularly, trying to push them through it. We throw so much at them, and their minds are just ready to explode. But you've just got to keep pushing them and keep pushing them. We wouldn't be doing it if they weren't worth it."

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