Defensive End Mercilus Eager To Compete

Illinois graduated two of its top three defensive ends this past year. That opens doors for underclassmen eager to take their places. The competition is fierce so far this spring, and several athletes are potential starters. A redshirt freshman who is vying for playing time is Whitney Mercilus.

A graduate of Garfield High School in Akron, Ohio, Whitney Mercilus is pleased with his decision to attend Illinois.

"I love it. Last year, being around these guys taught me a lot of things, a lot of things I didn't learn in high school. It's a great program also."

Whitney was undersized for defensive end out of high school and benefitted from his redshirt year even though he didn't want to sit out.

"Yeah, it was kind of tough because I wanted to get into the games. As the year progressed, everybody was telling me it was a good thing to redshirt. So I just got into the weight room and lifted hard. Out here, I'm trying to do something in the spring so I can play during the season."

The 6'-3" Mercilus needed the year to build up his size and strength.

"I came in at 220, and now I weight 260. It's a big improvement since I came in. Now I'm trying to maintain this weight so I can go ahead and play and do some things."

He also wasn't strong enough to engage 300 pound defensive tackles.

"I wasn't benching alot, so I'm up to about 345 now."

Whitney sees an opening at the front of the line with the graduation of seniors Will Davis and Derek Walker.

"I think of it as a big opportunity for me. The older guys taught me a lot of stuff I can use this year."

While he only worked one year with departed defensive line coach Tom Sims, comparisons in style with new coach Keith Gilmore are inevitable.

"I like the new coach. I'm not saying I didn't like the old one. Coach Sims is real cool. I like this one too. He's taught me a lot of things I hadn't known before.

"The other coach emphasized our power step more than anything. He eventually worked with our hands. Coach Gilmore emphasizes our hands more. It opens more doors for me to get past the linemen on the rush."

When asked his best asset as a defensive end, Mercilus seemed to say it was defending both the run and pass.

"My biggest strength is probably playing the run. I'm not saying the other guys aren't good with the run. I just feel I worked more toward that my scout team season. I emphasized that because I know I can play the pass.

"When I came in, my speed rush wasn't that great, but now it is because our coach emphasizes our hands more, being more aggressive. I'm trying to work outside and inside so I won't be a predictable player."

Whitney gained some notoriety last fall when he appeared on a segment of "The Journey," a series of shows about Illinois football on the Big Ten Network. He was the recipient of some good-natured ribbing from his teammates and friends, but the dance instructor was quite complimentary.

"My Journey experience was pretty fun. The other guys gave us a hard time about it, but it was exciting to be on TV. I hated that it was a dance class, but it's ok though.

"Dance class wasn't too bad, but I didn't like people back home watching me dance on TV. The teacher said I was very confident. I tried my best in that class. I wasn't just slacking or whatever."

Mercilus has ambitions both on the field and off.

"I'm trying to get into Kinesiology so I can major in pre-med."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories