Young Receivers Benefitting From Duvalt

One more year. One more chance to put all the talent and hard work together into one successful package. That is how senior receiver Chris Duvalt sees his role on the Illini football team. A speedster who can made the circus catch, Duvalt believes his role must also expand to include teaching the youngsters who follow after him.

Chris Duvalt started the 2008 season with a bang, grabbing a touchdown against Missouri and looking good early. But an injury reduced his playing time as the season progressed.

"My right ring finger got dislocated in one of the games, so I wasn't catching the ball as well as I had early in the season. So that's why my role was decreased."

With his final spring practices now concluded, Chris reflects on his role as a senior leader.

"My spring has been going all right, kind of how I planned it. I've taken the step-back role of teaching the other guys how to run their routes, what they're doing on their plays. I'm progressing as a player also, but I'm more like a mentor to the young guys."

Illinois coach Ron Zook has seen a change for the better with Duvalt.

"I talked to Duvie when he first got back here. He's one of the guys I singled out because he's always upbeat, he's always on the jazz, excited. I love the kid. There was also some days last year that didn't go exactly right, and he kind of let you know that too.

"I said, 'Duvie, for this thing to work everybody's got to have a role.' And he's done nothing but be the kind of player we know he can be. He's talented, he's fast, he's quick, he's tough. He's making plays.

"I don't know what it is. You can talk and talk and talk. But when it comes to that senior year, they switch. If you could get them to do it as freshmen..."

"Duvie" agrees with that assessment.

"That's the main thing that happened with me. I believe that I started to realize I wasn't going to be in college forever. If I was gonna do it right, this was the time to do it. Make all the right plays, make all the right decisions. I believe that was a true statement by Coach Zook.

"I'm putting more hours in the film room, meeting with the coaches and players, trying to get everybody on the same page. Helping out the young guys. Last year, I didn't know the offense that well. This year I know it better, so I'm just helping out the younger guys."

Chris loves to make the big play. He made a fantastic end zone grab of a low Juice pass in one spring scrimmage, zooming past safety Ashante Williams at the last second to grab the ball for a touchdown.

"I try to have one spectacular play every day. That's the kind of receiver I am, I like to make diving grabs and jumping grabs. I just love that excitement of going down to get the ball or going up to get the ball.

"That was a good throw because if he had thrown it any different from the way he threw it, I wouldn't have been able to catch it. It would have hit Ashante in the back of the head or something. At the last second, I just said, 'Hey, I'll just dive for this and try to get it.'"

Of course, he also isn't shy about letting his opponent know he made a great play.

"You have to hold the ball up to make sure the refs know you caught it. It was a little bit for Ashante's benefit. I got a little excited for a second there. But he's a teammate. I just did that for the refs."

While his coaches don't want Duvie drawing any personal fouls, they do want their leaders to keep teammates at a high emotional pitch.

"That's what makes it fun. Getting everybody out here jumping around having fun, that makes it a better scrimmage for people to come out and watch. The coaches get more out of us when we're excited and playing like that."

The 5'-11", 175 pounder from Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, Florida, is excited about new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and the potential of the offense.

"We kept a lot of the stuff our old offensive coordinator used to run. But what Coach Schultz brought in is confusing the defense even more. With the package we already have, the motions, running plays off the motion, it's a better offense."

Schultz is finding ways of running the ball with slotbacks, something else Chris enjoys doing.

"I love that because I'm one of those guys who likes to run in between the tackles sometimes. It's kind of difficult, but it's fun because we're used to going out and catching the ball every down. Now they changed it up and are giving us the ball in different ways on the field. I love this offense."

The receiver corps is considered the strength of the team, and Chris Duvalt enjoys the responsibility that comes with that designation.

"We've been saying that since the summer. We are the heart and soul of the offense and the team. It's a big burden on our back, but we can handle it. We know our responsibilities and what we have to do game in and game out."

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