Dere Hicks Wants Best Season As Senior

Fighting Illini cornerback Vontae Davis was selected in the first round of the NFL draft last spring, and his athleticism will be missed this fall. But it was Dere Hicks who won the award as the Illini's best defensive back for the 2008 season. Hicks played injured last year and again in the spring, but two surgeries have helped him get back into the starting lineup.

The term "Sports Hernia" is a recent addition to the medical vernacular and refers to a variety of maladies affecting an athlete's groin musculature. Illinois cornerback Dere Hicks has now had two surgeries to repair one form of that injury.

"I had a little injury from the season," Hicks explains. "I played the whole season with it. I had a surgery early summer, but I'm back to normal now. I had some things messed up with my groin, but I got it fixed now."

Actually, he had one surgery last winter and the other late spring. Regardless of the details, Hicks is slowly getting back into playing shape.

"This is my final season, so you've got to let it all hang out. I've played here for three years, and it's time to step up and make big plays."

The Illinois receiver corps is outstanding, providing excellent daily competition for the defensive backs.

"We're going against a good receiver corps, maybe the best. We practice with them every day, so it will come as second nature during the games. We'll be able to read and react and know our assignments."

Hicks is looking forward to showing the world how good this Illini defense can be.

"I think our defense is coming along great, man. I know we're really jelling together. We don't have any individual guys out there that are shining, it's just all of us working together as a team."

The Illinois offense has not been able to dominate the defense, creating confidence.

"We're really competing and giving them 100% each and every day."

The defensive backfield is also developing more depth than past years according to Hicks.

"Yeah, we are. The young guys are really coming along. Joelil Thrash, and even the safety Walter Aikens is coming along. So there's a lot of depth in the secondary.

Sophomore Tavon Wilson is much more confident after a year's experience.

"I think so too. With Vontae gone, somebody has to really step in and take over the job."

And Travon Bellamy is much happier back at cornerback after playing safety last year.

"Travon is both playing nickel and backing me up. He's prepared to play any position on the field. He's a good athlete."

Hicks knows the Illini need to create more turnovers this year. He and his defensive backfield mates plan on grabbing more interceptions, but he agrees their opportunities are created primarily by a stronger run defense.

"It definitely does. This year we got together in the first meeting of fall camp, and we wanted to emphasize stopping the run. That's one of our big goals. Last year, we didn't stop the run too well in the Missouri game, so this year we want to come out and control the line of scrimmage.

"Any time we can get the quarterback frustrated and come out of the pocket, he throws the ball up for grabs. We've got to make plays on it."

The Illini defense has set high goals this year. Can those goals be realized?

"I think so. Last year, we didn't have too many turnovers as a secondary, and defensively we didn't have a real good year. So we have to pick it up and concentrate so we can get the ball back more often."

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