Chris Duvalt Battling To The Last Illini Play

As the Fighting Illini approach their final football game of 2009, it's time for reflection for seniors who will be saying goodbye. Every senior wants to go out with a blaze of glory, and that isn't always possible. But receiver Chris Duvalt is playing his best ball. He caught six balls for 94 yards against Cincinnati, and he's scored touchdowns each of the last two weeks.

Chris Duvalt plays his final game for Illinois Saturday against Fresno State.

"It's my fourth year, and it's gonna be kind of sad to leave it because I know I'm not coming back. But I'm having fun.

"My mom called me before Camp Rantoul and said this was my last year. And that's when it really clicked in my head. I wanted to really do something this last year. And then try to continue my football after college.

"I'm never gonna give up because I love the sport so much. I'm just gonna continue to try to make plays to my last play I guess."

Duvalt played his first years as a backup at cornerback before moving to receiver. Does he regret taking two years to find his best position?

"I often ask myself what it would be like if I had played receiver ever since I got here. I try not to think about it as much because what happened happened. I'm successful now at receiver."

His cornerback background has helped him as a receiver.

"Yeah, when I see a zero man, I know what's going through his head. Like, 'I can't let this guy have a catch on me.' Or, 'I've got to stay inside (or stay outside).' All that runs through my head, and it helps me as a receiver. I tell the other guys how a corner will be thinking or a linebacker will be thinking in certain situations."

The Lakeland, Florida product has also benefitted from having superstar Arrelious Benn playing alongside him.

"Certain teams play him different, doubling him with a linebacker and a safety. And some teams try to double with a corner on the left side. But Rejus moves around so they don't really get a feel for where he's at.

"He opens it up for everybody, but we try to keep the attention off him. It's easier for the rest of us guys. It's hard for him to get the ball when he's double covered or triple covered, so it opens things up for the rest of us."

Coach Ron Zook says Duvalt has taken on a leadership role, and he agrees.

"Yeah, I feel that. My mom said I needed to grow up and teach the young guys the plays and everything, just be there for them. And that'll help me. That's what I've really been trying to do, to help everybody. That's being a leader.

"We had John Wright come in to teach us about leadership, what it takes to be a leader. Like when teammates are down, what to say to them, how to console them. Being a leader is trying to make everybody better, it's not always about yourself."

The 2009 season has not worked out like anyone expected. He has no more answers than anyone else.

"I really don't know what happened to us this year. A lot of things went wrong for us. It was just a crazy year. Personally, I feel I could have done a lot of things better. It's been a disappointment for all of us because we had such high expectations coming in. We've just got to move on from that. I think I had a pretty good season."

The 5'-11", 175 pounder thinks a couple early losses really destroyed the team's confidence.

"We had some great practices for the Missouri game. Everybody came in with high hopes of what we were gonna do this year. We just didn't execute against a lot of the teams we played.

"Missouri was a big game for us. Losing like we did really hurt our confidence. And then that Ohio State game really deflated everyone. I kept trying to fight through, but a lot of guys were deflated after those two losses."

The losses began a snowball effect that became impossible to overcome. Injuries to the team's top performers also took their toll.

"Yeah, that was really tough playing with all the injuries we had."

With two highly unusual post-Thanksgiving games on the schedule, the Illini are getting extra practice time. Duvalt is grateful for every second playing with his friends.

"It feels kind of weird, but on the other hand it's kind of good for us. We're not going to a bowl game, but we're still gonna treat this experience as our bowl game. I love coming out here and having fun."

The ambitious Duvalt wanted more, but he is philosophical about the end of his college career.

"I'm still not feeling right because I feel like I haven't accomplished everything I wanted to. But hey, it's like that sometimes. You've just got to move on."

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