Antonio Gully came to Illinois out of Cardinal Ritter High School in St. Louis. He redshired as a freshman and received no playing time his first year of eligibility. Each year since he expanded his role. He is much better prepared for that possibility now.
"I think I've come a long way since my freshman year. I've matured in many ways. I have a much better respect for the game. And I'm just more field smart, football smart. At first I was just an athlete. Now I'm a teacher on the field."
Gully saw brief action on special teams his sophomore year, and last year he was a fixture.
"Kickoffs, punt, kickoff return, punt return. I was on all of them pretty much."
The long wait was worth it.
"Most definitely. I stuck it out while I was here. It always feels good to get out on the field and get a chance to play."
That playing time gives him confidence to play his best. It also helps that defensive coordinator and defensive back coach Vic Koenning has no previous memory of his players. It gives him a new lease on life.
"Most definitely. We've got new coaches, so we have to start all over again. Hopefully I'll get more playing time on defense. I plan to take full advantage of it. It's like a second chance for me. I'll make the best of it."
There are few cornerbacks on the team. Gully spent the whole spring playing second string. He changed sides of the field the final week of spring ball, but he sees that as an advantage.
"I was playing boundary corner at first, and now they've switched me over to field corner. They want me to learn both positions so I can be more use to the team. If I'm playing boundary and someone gets hurt, I can switch."
He feels he can compete for a starting berth.
"We've got some guys that are good and are going to play. But it's not any one of the top guys."
Gully describes his best assets as a cornerback.
"My strengths are most definitely my speed and quickness. I have good ball instincts."
The new defensive schemes are exciting to Gully.
"I think it's GREAT. It's not necessarily like the defense we had last year which was more of a pinch defense. This is more of an attacking defense. I like an attacking defense. We've got a lot of chances to get picks, hopefully for six."
Koenning expects much from his players, but that suits the 6'-1", 190 pounder just fine.
"He is a perfectionist. He's working everybody hard because he thinks everybody can be good. He knows we have the talent, and all you've got to do is coach it right. Get us on the field and we'll play."
The Community Health major wants to end his career successfully.
"This will be my last year, so I've got to do what I have to do to get out of here on a good note. The time has gone fast. My freshman year my hair was short. Now it's all long, and I've got facial hair now. I'm old now."