Justin Lattimore came to Illinois as a 210 pound tight end. The talented freshman from Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida, had the receiving skills for college ball, but he needed to bulk up and gain strength for the blocking requirements of his position.
After a fall and winter working with the Strength and Conditioning staff, he is approaching the 230 mark and is much better prepared for the physicality of the college game. There were other benefits to saving his year of eligibility as well.
"The speed of the game. In high school, it seemed much slower. In college you have to stay on your toes. It's a big upgrade."
With the redshirt year now behind him, Lattimore and the other tight ends worked all spring on the basic requirements of a position that figures heavily in offensive plans.
"Basically the fundamentals and everything, from the stances to route running to blocking."
He says the last one was his primary emphasis.
"Mainly the blocking scheme. I'm trying to learn the blocks and the technique."
With new emphasis on the position, all the tight ends have an equal opportunity to compete for playing time.
"It's a motivation for all of us. Work your hardest every day, watching film, getting fundamentally sound, and getting ready to compete. It's an open position."
Lattimore's first impressions of new tight end coach Greg Nord are favorable.
"He's a funny guy. He's a character. He gets down to business. He's a great guy and I like him a lot. I like being around him."
He was asked to compare Nord with last year's tight ends coach Mike Schultz.
"It's somewhat similar, but they have their differences. Nord will get on your butt more. Both are great guys though."
Lattimore really likes the new offensive innovations under coordinator Paul Petrino. He also responds well to Petrino's style.
"He's all about tempo. That's all he wants. He's fired up."
Prior to this season, tight end was an almost forgotten position. The spread offense utilized tight ends infrequently. Lattimore and his fellow tight ends used the spring to figure things out.
"It's a new system so we're all a bit rusty. We're trying to put in the work and get better day by day."