Defensive back Tavon Wilson is growing up before our eyes. The Illinois junior has become so confident, so polished that he was asked by Coach Ron Zook to accompany him, Clay Nurse and Eddie McGee at the Big 10 Conference Media Day. That role is customarily reserved for seniors, so if he goes again next year, he will be a true rarity.
"That was a great experience. I thank Coach Zook and the coaches for thinking enough of me to send me up there. It was pretty nice. If I get a chance to go two years in a row, that would be great."
The personality change has allowed him to become a leader for the football team both on and off the field. Certainly, he speaks for the whole team when he shares his feelings about the 2010 Fighting Illini.
"Everything's been going pretty good. I look for a lot of improvement and everybody buying into what we're trying to do. I think we're gonna be pretty good.
"Every spot's up for grabs. Everybody's coming out here trying to get better. At the safety positions, the guys are coming along pretty well. I try to make sure those guys are in their play books, trying to make all of us better as a whole.
"I'm impressed with all of them. They're getting moved around to different positions, so down the road they'll handle things."
Wilson helped guarantee a successful summer without the coaches. That was necessary as the Illini worked to improve their knowledge of the new defensive schemes brought in by defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
"I feel I've got it down pretty good. We got a lot done in the spring, and we called our own practices this summer. So we got a lot of work done in the summer. I feel pretty good about the situation."
The 6'-1", 200 pounder realizes his words mean little without success on the field this fall.
"We feel like we had a great summer. But summer doesn't mean nothing. It's about what you do Saturdays when the season starts. That's what counts."
He and his teammates have to work hard for Koenning, but it is a labor of love.
"Coach Vic is a great guy. He brings it every day, so he expects you to. He makes all of us accountable for what we've got to do. I respect Coach a lot.
"If we don't bring energy, he is. If practices aren't going the way he likes, he's gonna fix it. He's not just gonna sit back and let things happen. If the players aren't gonna be the enforcers, then he's gonna be the enforcer every day."
Wilson practiced at the boundary corner throughout Camp Rantoul, but with the injury losses to safety Supo Sanni and cornerback Terry Hawthorne, he has been getting time at safety and also nickel back. Illinois coach Ron Zook sees advantages to moving his most experienced defensive back around.
"He's working some at safety also. Tavon is a voice back there. He's a calming effect as well. You can put him in there, and he can get us lined up."
Wilson isn't ready to make any predictions. But he feels the signs point in a positive direction.
"Coming out of summer, everybody is confident. Compared to last season, everyone feels like the chemistry's better, the attitude is better, everybody is believing. I feel like that's gonna help us a lot."