Justin Green Adapts Quickly To College RB

Lost amid the anger and confusion of a surprisingly convincing loss to Missouri last Saturday was the fact four Illini freshmen football players experienced their first college action. While his statistics were insignificant, running back Justin Green got his feet wet. Now, bigger and better things are expected for the Louisville speedster.

Justin Green came to Illinois after a stellar career at Louisville Male. Winner of gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 meter dashes in the Kentucky state track finals as a junior, Green was recruited heavily to play football in college and chose the Illini over Ohio State.

He has an extra burst of speed needed to test any defense, and the Illinois coaches are working on ways of getting him in the game. The first step is complete, and it was a big one. Green is glad to have that first game under his belt.

"I really didn't recognize how big that moment was until after I was back out. But it meant a whole lot to me, and I was definitely a little bit antsey during the game. But being able to play in the first game will help me in the future."

He definitely feels he will be more relaxed from now on.

"Yeah, I'll be a whole lot less nervous than I was in the Missouri game. The hardest thing was just running out on the field for the first time."

Green lost a yard in his only rushing attempt, but he did gain 6 yards on one pass reception. All newcomers marvel at the speed of the game compared with high school, and he is no exception. But the early team scrimmages prepared him for it.

"The speed of the game was fast, but I think the first scrimmage I played in Camp Rantoul was actually faster than the Missouri game. Maybe that was just because that was my first college experience."

Green was also used on a couple special teams.

"I was on the punt return and kickoff. That was fun, running down the field trying to make a play. It's always good to be in the game."

One way or another, it was definitely an upgrade from high school.

"Just being part of the game, it's definitely different from high school. You have to be a whole lot more disciplined in your play. It was definitely a big difference."

Green was recruited to play defensive back at Ohio State, his brother's alma mater. In part, this was due to his slender frame. But with an injury ending his final track season prematurely, Green's work ethic helped him improve his strength and size to handle running back in college, his preferred position.

"I had a hamstring injury, so I didn't run track. I went from 178 to 195. I came in not as flexible as I used to be, but I gained it back quickly with Coach Lou (Hernandez)."

A hard worker with tremendous speed and shiftiness makes a quick impression on a college coaching staff. So from the start of Camp Rantoul, Green was tested for possible playing time this season. Of course, no freshman can learn the entire offense in one month.

"Coach (Reggie) Mitchell has started off easy with me. He's trying to work me in slowly. On offense, we've got so many plays, we just gradually build up."

He actually finds it a bit easier to operate out of a college backfield than high school.

"In high school, we lined up so close to the quarterback and offensive line, I wasn't able to see the play develop. One thing I do like is we line up a little further back, so I get to see things develop a little bit better."

Green also has opportunities to use his speed in the open field by catching passes out of the backfield. The Illini are looking for ways for him to break a long one.

"He's got me lined up at the slot. We have a formation where the running back goes into the slot every now and then to run routes. We'll see how that works out. I played some receiver in high school."

Green is a quick learner, but he credits fellow running backs Daniel Dufrene, Jason Ford, Mikel Leshoure and Troy Pollard with a big assist.

"I don't think I would make it without them really. All of them, Troy, Mikel, Jason, Daniel are all helping me out. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I'm at."

Sprained ankles to Dufrene and Ford and a one-game suspension for Leshoure have given Green even more opportunity to learn the offense in practice.

"Yeah, it definitely helps. I didn't get as many reps in practice before they were out. Now I get my reps in."

He's hoping to see more playing time as well.

"It would be nice to get more carries this week, but whatever the coaches have drawn up for me I'll do."

Now that he has a game under his belt, his focus is on the Illinois team. He says the Illini have rededicated their practices to becoming the team they expect to be.

"We've picked it up a whole lot. We realize we can't just come out and play. We've got to practice hard all throughout the week. That's eventually gonna help us in the long run.

"We have a whole lot of talent, and we thought we could just get by on that. But we're just like everybody else. We've got to come out and play hard every game."

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