Cornerback Tavon Wilson Available If Needed

The Illini football team has relied on juniors Vontae Davis and Dere Hicks to man the cornerback spots on defense. They are doing an outstanding job, but an injury could force a change anytime. Freshman Tavon Wilson is being groomed to step in if needed.

The Washington Post District Player Of The Year last season as a senior at H. D. Woodson High School in D. C. is now a first replacement at cornerback. He also starts on the kickoff and punt teams. He prepared himself to play as a rookie.

"I knew I could adapt pretty fast. I knew it was going to be different from high school. I just had to come in and work hard. I just want to keep working and stay focused on what I've got to do."

Tavon Wilson knew he would have a chance to contribute as a freshman, so he's not surprised with his playing time.

"Yes, it's what I expected. Coach told me I had an opportunity to play, and I've just got to take advantage of it."

It takes awhile for freshmen to adjust to the college game. But just like Miami Thomas last year, there's room for a youngster who continues to improve as the season goes along.

"Things have been going real good. Coach Zook has been pushing me real hard. Now toward the end of the season I'll have to play even more. In the Big Ten season, we have to play everybody we can."

With all the pressure-packed games, Zook has relied on upperclassmen as much as possible. But injuries are always possible, and physical exhaustion requires occasional rest. It helps to create depth.

"Right now, we're playing more people. At the beginning of the season, our starters were getting a little tired. But now we're getting more experience as freshmen and we're playing a lot more, so we can help the team. Everything is coming together better than at the beginning of the season. It's getting better each week."

He possesses the confidence needed for the position.

"I'm a physical corner. I can play man to man or whatever the coaches need me to do. I feel like I'm a great enough athlete that I can play against anybody. I can man up against anybody. Whatever the coaches need me to do, I can do."

Wilson's physicality is aided by excellent size.

"When I first got here, I was about 6'-0" and 190. Now I'm about 6'-1" and 197. I don't really worry about that stuff. I just play big, that's all."

A necessity for all cornerbacks is the ability to remain focused on each play despite setbacks along the way. They are the last line of defense. If a play gets past them, it usually results in a touchdown.

"You've got to have a short memory back there. Bad things happen, and you're gonna give up plays sometimes. Everybody gets beat. So you've just got to get ready for the next play."

Tavon was recruited by Maryland, Boston College and Michigan State among others. He is happy he changed his mind about his college destination.

"I was committed to Maryland, but I decided to come here instead. I felt like it was a better fit for me. I feel the same way now, I fit right in with everybody. The scheme we run fits my game."

Tavon demonstrated early in Camp Rantoul that he was prepared to compete. He has a good rivalry going with fellow freshman Cordale Scott, a receiver. They take turns beating each other in practice.

"Me and Cordale, we're gonna go at it all the time. We're real close friends. He's gonna give me his best effort, and I'm gonna give him my best effort every time so we can get better. Me and Cordale are always gonna go at it so we can be better on game day."

If something should happen to Davis or Hicks, Tavon Wilson could become a starter in the defensive backfield. His athleticism and confidence might just give him the edge he needs. And the experience he gains this year will give him a head start on what promises to be a bright future.

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