Tavon Wilson graduated from H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., arriving at Illinois as a nervous rookie. He showed enough skill to play as a freshman, even rising to become the top reserve at both cornerback spots by the end of the 2008 season.
But the shy freshman struggled speaking with the media. He was barely audible answering questions, and he usually limited his remarks to mantras from his coaches. However, that is no longer a problem. Now a confident sophomore, Wilson has shown his gregarious side. He displays a big smile and responds well to any question asked of him. He explains the difference.
"I'm alot more relaxed than last fall because I was new to the media. I didn't get that much media attention in high school. Now, it's a little different to me."
Wilson, who is an inch and a half taller than his listed 6'-0", is a physical corner who loves to compete. He has the speed to cover fast receivers and size to fend off downfield blocks. Being named a starter has helped him become more relaxed and sure of himself.
"Yeah, it makes me feel pretty confident. But I can't settle into the position. I've got to keep on working and never be satisfied with where you're at."
While he played only a backup role last year, the experience was vital for his development.
"Yeah, it made a big difference. I feel more comfortable with the defense. I know what I'm doing. I know where everybody else is at, where my help is at. It makes me feel better as a player."
The Illinois offense gives Wilson challenges every day. He learns a lot going against Illini receivers.
"Our offense is supposed to be one of the best in the Big 10. We feel like if we can stick with them, we can stick with anybody in the conference."
He is equally comfortable defending small and large receivers.
"It doesn't matter to me. All of them are different receivers. Some have great speed. I just cover all of them. Arrelious Benn is probably the toughest one to cover because he's got a lot of speed, and he's big and strong."
The defense was tentative to begin spring ball, but Wilson remembers the intensity building during the spring and summer.
"A lot of us hadn't played much last year, so in the spring we were trying to gain that chemistry. Now, we know what we can do, we trust each other, and that's making us fly around more."
At Camp Rantoul, Miami Thomas was competing with Wilson for a starting spot until Thomas was lost for the season with knee surgery.
"Miami is a great player. I hated to see him go down. He was competing with me for the spot."
With Thomas lost, freshman Joelil Thrash moved up to challenge. Thrash and Wilson are close friends from the same high school.
"Joelil is improving a lot faster than I did actually. I've been helping him, and he's taking it in. He's accepted what I have to teach him. So he is past where I was this time last year."
Wilson believes the Illini team will stay strong and have a good season because of the quality of leadership available.
"Our leaders are leading. They're pushing and demanding. Our leaders aren't ever satisfied. Last year, we probably had a little bit of a leadership problem with no one wanting to step out.
"But this year our leaders don't care. If they see someone not doing what they're supposed to do, they're gonna say something to them."
Wilson is still young and prone to mistakes. But each day, each game, he improves. Illinois coach Ron Zook has shown obvious enthusiasm toward his young cornerback.
"Tavon is a good player. I don't worry about who's starting right now. He's just got to continue to improve the way he has. It's a lot easier for him this year than last year. He's gonna be a good player."