Patrick Nixon-Youman is a freshman cornerback at Illinois. He was originally in last year's freshman class, but a question about one of his high school classes delayed his approval by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He practiced briefly at Camp Rantoul and showed outstanding speed and coverage skills before being told he couldn't enroll at Illinois.
"Yeah, that was the worst thing that possibly could have happened to me," Nixon-Youman remembers. "It's behind me now, so I'm just ready to go."
He was finally approved during the spring, and he participated in spring ball. He was just getting his football legs and confidence back when he had possibly the second worst thing happen to him. An abdominal muscle was torn from his pelvis, requiring surgery.
"I had surgery on my pelvis. It took a little while. I didn't start doing stuff until June. It's one of those things I have to keep rehabbing throughout my life because it was a significant injury."
Nixon-Youman is practicing again his fall, but he admits he is not back to full speed.
"I'm ok. Still recovering. It still has it's ups and downs. It ain't nothing that can stop me. I'll just keep going. They're expecting me to do everything. That's how you get better."
Is he less than 100% due to a slow recovery from the injury or a lack of conditioning?
"Both. It slows me down, and I still have to condition it because it's still kind of weak from not doing the exercises everybody else was doing in the offseason."
Normally, Nixon-Youman is a confident, talkative player. But his subdued responses indicate he is discouraged about his progress. Still, he will recover quicker through working out with the team.
"Yeah, I think about it, but I try to forget about it at the same time. I just have to mentally prepare myself everytime I go out."
The Jacksonville, Florida, native perks up when the Illini team is the topic of discussion. He can feel the unity and inner strength of the team building daily.
"It feels great. We all have a bond. We're all looking for each other as leaders coming together, everything to get on one accord, to have a great team."
Besides the upperclassmen returning at cornerback, he also must compete with a couple promising freshmen. Joelil Thrash is actually running ahead of him right now, and Terry Hawthorne has recently been added to the mix. Tommie Hopkins is a third corner who will compete for a spot once he recovers fully from a leg injury. Nixon-Youman doesn't mind competition.
"That's how we all get better. I look forward to them going out and doing what they do, and I'm gonna do the same. I can learn a lot from them, and they can learn a lot from me."
He feels team success is just around the corner.
"We're very confident. We're surrounded by good coaches and good players. So if each player does the job with the coaching he gets, we'll be a great team."