Justin Green was recruited as a defensive back by Ohio State and other top programs, but he came to Illinois to play running back. The Kentucky sprint champion played sparingly there as a freshman and found himself behind Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford this fall.
Safety Supo Sanni and cornerback Terry Hawthorne both suffered injuries late in fall camp, depleting the defensive backfield. So naturally many people thought Green was moved to defense to replenish the position. However, that is not the case.
"This is something I wanted to do. I like running back, but I saw that there was an opportunity on defense. I moved over the day before (Sanni) got hurt."
The Hawthorne injury gave him a chance to start at cornerback against Missouri. He responded with six tackles. He also forced an offensive pass interference call with good coverage on a Tiger receiver. He still has plenty to learn, but he is off to a good start.
"I'm doing all right. I'm trying to learn the defense."
Green explains his thinking about position preferences during his recruitment.
"Coming out of high school, I wasn't too keen on playing defensive back, but now that I'm learning I kind of like it."
The Louisville Male product has the athleticism for the position, but the complexity takes time to digest.
"Really, it's just all the terminology. I can play all the coverages."
It took Green awhile to get back in playing shape after his broken leg.
"My leg is good, my agility took a while to get back, but I've been doing a lot of rehab and it's back to where it needed to be. My speed is still there. Not quite where I want it to be yet, but it's there.
"I was still doing all of the lifts and running workouts with coach Lou while I was recovering. I'm back to 190. I lost about 10 pounds after the surgery, but the weight is still coming along."
The break was near his ankle, so he is still working on ankle flexibility and maneuverability.
"It's coming along. It gets stiff at times, it has its days. But it's gonna come along."
Whatever he lacks from his time apart from football, he is just happy to be doing what he loves.
"It felt really good to get out and run again. It gave me confidence. Of course I'm still a little rusty but it'll come back to me."
Green was disappointed in the way the 2009 season progressed, and he was naturally concerned about all the changes being made. But those fears were alleviated once he met the coaches.
"At first I wasn't worried but I was a little skeptical with the new coaches, but after I sat down and talked to them and got to know them I really got along well. The discipline level is a lot higher and they want nothing but greatness out of us."
Green still may get some chances with the ball in his hands. He is presently on the kickoff return team.
"I love getting the ball out in space and being able to make plays."
However, he is not counting the days until a return to offense. In fact, it is just the opposite.
"Right now I'm focused on defense. That's where I'm leaning towards more too and want to play in the future."