Travon Bellamy burst onto the scene for Illinois back in 2006. The nickel back had two interceptions and played extensively as a freshman. He was expected to compete for a starting berth at cornerback in 2007.
Unfortunately, both Bellamy's shoulders had been injured in high school and worsened until he had to submit to surgery on both. He had either one shoulder or the other in a sling for a major portion of the 2007-2008 school year. He missed the Rose Bowl, and he had to sit out the following spring as well.
His body was healthy enough for full contact last fall, but he still remembered his shoulder problems and became hesitant to hit hard. With a greater need as safety, Bellamy worked to achieve success there. But the combination of the new position and his self-doubt prevented him from showing his true ability.
Bellamy's frustrations with the 2008 season carried over to this spring. He was returned to his more comfortable cornerback position, and he felt better physically. But he became media shy, begging out of interviews by saying he had tonsilitis.
When Bellamy is at his best he has a swagger, a certainty that helps him on the field. That was missing last year, but it is back now. In fact, he is playing so well he will likely start either at corner or nickel this fall. No longer allowed to beg out of media interviews, he submitted reluctantly to a few questions.
Bellamy agreed he has his swagger back.
"Yeah. I went back home, got some of momma's lemonade."
Confidence can be a fragile thing, but the Greenbelt, Maryland, native bristled when asked if he ever lost his confidence.
"You don't know what's inside of me. Only I know and God knows what's inside of me. I'm pretty confident. My confidence comes from relying on God. I'm confident I'll succeed whatever I do."
That is the Bellamy all Illini fans want to see. And it is the extra ingredient Illinois coaches need to work him back into the lineup.
"We're kind of rotating at corner. We'll see how that goes. They want me to fine-tune my skills at nickel. With the Missouri spread offense, I'll probably be the nickel all game."
The 6'-0", 205 pounder perked up when the discussion changed from him to his defensive team. He agrees the Illini defense is intense, determined to improve on last year's inconsistencies.
"Yeah, we're flying around. We're trying to get better, stay focused, trying to create turnovers. We lacked turnovers last year, so we're trying to do our job and get better. We're gonna see September 5th."
The Illinois defense is not given much chance to succeed this fall by the so-called experts. There are no big-name stars, and several top performers graduated. But Bellamy says that just gives them more incentive to succeed.
"We're not worried about recognition. We're just trying to focus on us, take it one day at a time. The defense is coming together. We're confident we've got the God-given talent. We've just got to keep together and make plays."
Bellamy and his defensive backfield mates must go against an outstanding receiving corps every day in practice. Rather than submit to their supremacy, they meet the receivers head-on.
"They're supposed to be the best receiving corps in the Big 10. We just take that as a challenge. As a defense, we don't back down to them. We come out here and just play.
"Our offense will make us better, and we'll make them better. We challenge them across the board."