Aaron Gress came to Illinois from College of the Sequoias to compete for playing time at linebacker, a position that lost three seniors to graduation. He is enjoying himself so far.
"It's going good. I'm just getting to know the guys, having fun and trying to learn the defense."
A year ago, the native Californian could never have imagined himself practicing in the state of Illinois or playing a scrimmage at an Oak Park high school.
"No sir. It's a pretty cool experience to be out here. Being part of the Big 10, a D-1 program, it's just a lot of fun. The weather's not too bad."
It may be fun, but it's also a lot of hard work.
"There's a lot more to it (than junior college). You have to be a lot more focused. 6:00am's was pretty intense. It was fun and competitive, but at the same time it was tough."
Major college football is far more complex than what Gress was used to also. But he is getting the help he needs from his coaches and teammates.
"The other guys on the team have been very good about helping me learn the defense. So it's been a good experience so far."
Aaron was set back in his quest for playing time when he suffered a mild injury early in spring workouts.
"I pulled my hamstring, so it took a little time to get back."
The 6'-0", 230 pounder has one primary position, but he is getting an opportunity to work at all three linebacker spots.
"I'm at the WILL right now. They kind of rotate everybody around, trying to figure out who's gonna play where this season, so it's not 100% yet. Coach Disch's just trying to see who fits where."
Gress has seen improvements in his game since arriving on campus.
"Better hustle, better knowledge of the game. They teach you so much more here than junior college. There's different plays for different situations."
With a laid back personality, the areas he says he needs to work on are not surprising.
"Getting myself upbeat and learning the defense all-together."
He has also been getting practice with some special teams.
"I've been working with the punt and punt return teams. Not any specifics yet, just backup."
Aaron wasn't on campus to understand the linebacking problems Illinois experienced last fall. But he has seen improvement this spring.
"I haven't been here too long, so I can't compare it to last year. But since I've started, I've seen Tez (Martez Wilson) and Ian Thomas, those guys are really good team leaders. So they're helping me along and helping the defense along. I think overall we're getting better. As a team, we're trying to focus on not being individuals but being a team."
Gress is undecided on a major.
"I'd like to go into Civil Engineering. I knew beforehand the UI was top 3 in engineering schools. If this semester goes good, I'm gonna try to do it next semester. If it seems too hard to balance between football and school, I'll try to find something else."