You can forgive Jarred Fayson if he wonders what happened to him. Transferring to Illinois from the University of Florida took a leap of faith. So did sitting out 17 months before he could finally gain eligibility. Then Mike Locksley, the offensive coordinator who recruited him, left to become head coach at New Mexico.
When he finally saw the field last fall, he hoped to score 10 touchdowns his first game and every game thereafter. That was not to be, in part due to a continuing series of injuries that have limited his success.
"I played 6 or 7 games with a knee injury that definitely affects how you run," Fayson explains. "But I'm all healed and will be ready to go this fall."
When healthy, Fayson can accelerate explosively from a standstill. He has great speed and can use it both as a receiver and kick returner. That explosiveness and extra gear were missing last year. Has it now returned?
If it has, he may play a vital role in the success of the 2010 Illini football team. Head coach Ron Zook spoke highly of him during spring practices.
"He's had a great off season. He's shown great leadership. He had a great first day this spring, and he just kept on improving on that.
"He's possessed. He's gonna do whatever he has to do to be as good as he can be. He's taking care of his body and doing all the things he has to do. He wants to step up and show people he can be a good player."
Of course, Fayson also had to learn a new offensive system under coordinator Paul Petrino. It took time as he hit a wall early.
"Absolutely, it was like learning everything again. It's like learning how to tie your shoe. Once you figure it out, you start smiling and keep going."
Petrino has earned Fayson's respect, not only as an offensive coordinator but as a receiver coach.
"He's one of the best things that could happen to me. He's real hard, real stern, but we need that kind of coaching day in and day out. I can definitely produce under him and make things happen. I like him a lot."
And the offense fits Fayson well. He is convinced the team can win with it.
"Absolutely. From my understanding, everybody's extremely impressed. We just have to keep working consistently day in and day out.
"It fits playmakers well if you can make plays. Obviously the type of coach we have, with his type of aggressiveness, it works really well."
Unlike the previous offense, crossing patterns are now common for receivers. As a 6'-0", 215 pounder, Fayson likes the possibilities.
"I like it a lot. I'm one of the bigger guys, and I can handle it. I like it in the middle because if you break a tackle, you're in the secondary."
Of course, a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. Fayson is impressed with Illini quarterbacks, especially expected starter Nathan Scheelhaase.
"Nathan is extremely smart. He puts a lot of time in. They all put a lot of time in. But Nathan is extremely smart and can make all the checks. I've been impressed with all of them. There are things one can do the others can't do, but we've got a good group.
"Nathan is a bit before his time by the way he handles himself and how he approaches each day. He's gonna be good."
Fayson agrees the team needed a new attitude and more accountability after the lost 2009 season.
"Yes, absolutely. We needed a complete change around here, and that's what we got."
At one time, Fayson may have anticipated a pro career. That is still possible if he can have a great season. But with a new lease on life, his main concern is the team.
"It's been a long journey. Finally I feel I'm in the right offense. I've just got to go out and handle my business. Every day continue to improve and get my teammates to do that. Make things happen this year. I just want to come out and be able to produce and help the team win."