Joelil Thrash is a freshman cornerback from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C. When an injury to Miami Thomas created an opening in the Illinois secondary, it was Thrash who stepped in. He is excited to be playing as a freshman for the Illini.
"Of course. I've been wanting to come here since my sophomore year of high school, so it's a dream."
He was relatively unknown before attending an Illini one-day camp summer before last on the same day as fellow freshmen Steve Hull and Nathan Scheelhaase. But after his performance, Illini coaches saw enough to offer a scholarship.
"They offered me right after that. I was ecstatic. As soon as I saw the offer in the mail, I was ready to get on the phone and commit. I was jumping up and down.
"I had football practice, so when I showed up at practice and showed my coach the offer, I said I was ready to commit. He said to wait and see what else was gonna happen. I was like, 'No, coach, no, coach, I am ready to commit.' So I went ahead and committed."
Thrash was not overwhelmed with the idea of playing college ball. His friend Tavon Wilson helped prepare him for what lay ahead.
"It's still football like Coach always says. It's a game I've been playing all my life. So it won't change that much. Tavon was my friend in high school, so he helped me.
"When he came home, he sat me down, told me what I needed to know and what I needed to work on. When I was back at home, I was working on some of the things I needed to know here. So when I came, I was a little ahead of most of the dbs."
Still, the first day of fall camp was overwhelming.
"My first day practicing with the coaches, it was over the top of my head. I didn't know what to do. I knew some of the plays, but it was going so fast I didn't know what to do. I thought it was just gonna be cover 1, cover 2, cover 3, quarters. But it's different."
Thrash didn't expect to see action so early in his career.
"I just expected to come in and sit behind two great corners in Tavon Wilson and Dere Hicks. Travon Bellamy has helped me out a lot. I just wanted to learn, and then in my next following years perhaps get more playing time. Take it from there."
Like all freshmen say, the speed of the game was one of several obvious differences from high school.
"Yeah, it was faster, louder, players are better. Hey, it's Big 10 football."
A big adjustment for Thrash was watching his play on videotape and then receiving a critique of his performance.
"It's hard. That basically sums it all up. It's good, but it's hard at the same time. You watch tape and see yourself out there and you're not making mistakes, it feels good. But I still make mistakes."
Still, he is beginning to catch on.
"Yeah, it's starting to slow down a lot. It still goes fast because you have to go against Arrelious Benn, the best receiver in college football. Jarred Fayson and Jeff Cumberland too. If I can shut them down, I can pretty much shut down anybody."
The 6'-0", 185 pounder played both cornerback and receiver in high school. Which does he prefer?
"I prefer corner because there's no other joy like when you are out on the field and you're staring a receiver down. You're on his every move. I enjoy that. But on the other hand, when you get the ball at receiver, it's awesome. So hopefully, I'll get a lot of interceptions."
Thrash has seen most of his time so far with the special teams. He is on every one except field goal and punt return. To get more playing time at cornerback this year, he will need to keep improving.
"I want to work on my fundamentals. Staying focused, taking it one play at a time. That's what football's about, one play at a time. Staying late after practice whenever I can with study hall to learn my fundamentals and become a better football player."
The talkative, personable Thrash may be focusing on an appropriate college major.
"I'm thinking about majoring in communications. I'll probably declare my sophomore year."