CB Vontae Davis

2006 Statistics

Coach: Ron Zook
4-19, 2 years
2006 Record: 2-10
at Rutgers LOST 0-33
at Michigan State WON 23-20
at Penn State LOST 12-26
at Wisconsin LOST 24-30
at Northwestern LOST 16-27

2006 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2007 Outlook

At first glance, when comparing their 2005 results with what happened in 2006, many will see no increase in Illinois’ win total (2-10) and wonder. Upon closer inspection, one should note, though, how much more competitive they were in their losses – seven of the ten were by 11 points or less, signaling how Illinois was in position to win nearly every one of those closer defeats. Holding then-No.1 Ohio State to 17 points showed the signs of defensive life that are so needed, signs that could be the harbinger necessary to instill the kind of confidence that wins ball games. Anyone who knows Ron Zook knows two things – one, he is a tireless worker who expects the same from everyone around him, and two, he is an underdog recruiter who landed two five-star prospects and has procured two consecutive top 30 classes for a two-win school. The former quality proves why our initial statements about the team’s more competitive posture in ’06 will mean more wins this year. The latter statement will (eventually, but not this season) vault Illinois back into competing for the league title. The two come together when you see how Zook found, landed and entrusted true sophomore QB Isaiah “Juice” Williams and all of his unrealized talent(s). Let’s just hope (unlike at Florida with Chris Leak) that he is still around to see this phenom mature so the Illini can ride him back above the .500 mark. Williams was markedly better this spring, buoying hopes of Orange-and-Blue diehards everywhere. He’ll produce great stats and some keen wins, but it won’t be until next year that Juice will be ready to take this offense to the heights he can ultimately make it reach. Defensively, Zook has found some serious talent, but it drops off enough after the starters that inconsistency could become one of the team’s downfalls. The line and LBs look ready, but the safeties are marginal, a bad sign in the Big Ten with coaches/teams that can exploit such a deficiency at will. And if the punting and return dimensions again can’t be found (still missing this spring), field position losses will eventually equal actual ones. Their schedule is daunting – Rivals ranks theirs as the 17th-toughest slate, but at least Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan are in Champagne-Urbana. This could be the first year since 1994 that the Fighting Illini win in Minneapolis, and their four-game skid in the regular season closer with Northwestern is another streak Zook would love to change (as well as losing two straight to Indiana and four in a row to Iowa). Zook is one of those guys you never want to underestimate, for his motivational skills are notoriously respected by those in the know throughout every level of American football. The powers that be here should give him at least two, if not three more campaigns to right this ship. He has them turned toward winning, and now the team just has to move in that direction, which we feel they eventually will. But for ’07, this is basically a wanna-be team that may wind up two games on either side of breaking even, but will smash every foe in the mouth and challenge most weekly.

Projected 2007 record: 5-7
RB Rashard Mendenhall
QB - 3 DL - 3.5
RB - 3.5 LB - 3.5
WR - 3 DB - 3.5
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Juice Williams, 103-261-9, 1489 yds., 9 TD

Rushing: Rashard Mendenhall, 78 att., 640 yds., 5 TD

Receiving: Kyle Hudson, 30 rec., 403 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Jason Reda, 15-19 FG, 24-24 PAT, 69 pts.

Punting: Kyle Yelton, 49 punts, 37.4 avg.

Kicking: Jason Reda, 15-19 FG, 24-24 PAT, 69 pts.

Tackles: J Leman, 152 tot., 75 solo

Sacks: Derek Walker, 5.5 sacks

Interceptions: Brit Miller, 2 for 19 yds.; Travon Bellamy, 2 for 88 yds., 1 TD; Kevin Mitchell, 2 for 0 yds.

Kickoff returns: Chris Duvalt, 8 ret., 21.9 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: None


OFFENSE: Tim Brasic-QB, Pierre Thomas-RB, E.B. Halsey-RB, Jody Ellis-WR, Derrick McPhearson-WR, Matt Maddox-OG
DEFENSE: Josh Norris-DT, Alan Ball-CB

The fruition of sophomore Juice Williams is what everyone is banking on, and honing his huge amount of raw talent is the key for the Illini offense to become the multi-dimensional weapon it is designed to be. Coaches let the then-true freshman start nine games last year, allowing the Chicago product to work out many kinks and be the better for it this time around. Williams’ decision making has improved, and his huge arm will likely be leaned upon more if the spring game is any indication. This kid is everything since he is also their most utilized runner – the drop-off to reserve Eddie McGee is huge, and the Illini would definitely lose more games if he was forced to take over. One reason Illinois had the best Big Ten running game was due to rotating backs, and this year, the Mendenhall brothers – Rashard and Walter – are the two top candidates. Both are sizable, between-the-tackle runners. The new RB recruits will definitely get their chances with little behind the Mendenhalls. The biggest reason for them having the nation’s No.10 rushing ranking was in-state prep wrestling champ (215lbs.) Russ Weil. You can follow this fullback to know which way they will run when they are in two-back sets, but stopping them, even with such knowledge, is a challenge with Weil lead blocking. The line was weak this spring around the edges, and that is a surprise with two returning starters at tackle (though also a testament to their depth at DE). Still, though Miles and Millingham are evidently better run blockers, Williams’ emergence as a passer means outside protection could be a weakness. Jon Asamoah has emerged from the recent youth movement as the leading contender for the start at guard, and his quickness in pulling situations will improve lateral play development. O’Donnell and McDonald return to make this a decent starting five, but the next unit doesn’t show nearly the same prowess. The receivers that return are decent – Chris James has developed into this offense well, reacting now more than having to think about his actions; state prep high jump champ (6’10” best) Kyle Hudson has developed into their go to guy after being named Illini Rookie of the Year (2005); longtime PAT holder Frank Lenti uses his 6’2 frame well enough to earn the start in three-receiver sets; and Jacob Warren is a viable field-stretching tool and potential superstar with Williams’ propensity to throw deep. But it has been the impact of this year’s No.2 WR prospect, Arrelious Benn, that has everyone talking. Benn is being called a difference maker for the offense, so expect to see him right away and throughout the ’07 campaign as they learn how to fit him in with Williams. TE Jeff Cumberland was another true frosh who impressed last year – at 6’5, he is great over the deep middle. The use of multi-receiver sets will come more into vogue as Williams becomes a steadier passer. Moreover, whether he improves this way or not should make the difference between which side of .500 they land.


OG Martin O'Donnell


Returning Starters in bold
QB Juice Williams-So (6-2, 220) Eddie McGee-Fr (6-4, 189)
FB Russ Weil-Sr (6-0, 240) Justin Ijei-Sr (5-8, 215)
RB Rashard Mendenhall-Jr (5-11, 210) Walter Mendenhall-Jr (6-0, 225)
WR Frank Lenti-Sr (6-2, 185) DaJuan Warren-Sr (6-2, 210)
Jacob Willis-Sr (5-11, 182)
WR Kyle Hudson-Jr (5-11, 165) Joe Morgan-So (6-2, 180)
WR Chris James-So (6-0, 177) Arrelious Benn-Fr (6-2, 210)
TE Jeff Cumberland-So (6-5, 240) Michael Hoomanawanui-So (6-5, 255)
OT Akim Millington-Sr (6-6, 310) Xavier Fulton-Jr (6-5, 265)
OG Martin O'Donnell-Sr (6-5, 300) Eric Block-Jr (6-3, 290)
C Ryan McDonald-Jr (6-5, 300) Ben Amundsen-Sr (6-5, 310)
OG Jon Asamoah-So (6-5, 265) Brandon Jordan-Fr (6-5, 290)
OT Charles Myles-Sr (6-6, 320) Ryan Palmer-Fr (6-7, 315)
K Jason Reda-Sr (6-1, 200) ..



The Illini defense did many things right last year…but the one thing they couldn’t contain was opponent scoring. The DBs, coach Zook’s specialty, were strong and only allowed 11 passing TDs. But the front seven, even though they allowed only 3.3 yards per carry, let 19 TDs get by them. This, along with an abysmal turnover ratio (only gained 20 TOs and ranked 117th for TO-margin), translated into their 91st ranking for scoring defense, an aberration when you consider that Illinois’ ranking for total defense (based on yards) was 33rd. Another thing line coach Tom Sims accomplished in his first year was slicing over 110 yards per game off of foes’ rushing average(s). The ends, as we noted in the offensive section, are solid throughout their reserves (three deep). Derek Walker is looking to have a standout junior year, but if he doesn’t, expect starting bookend Doug Pilcher (as well as Davis and James, who had a HUGE spring) to do so with opponents concentrating on Walker. The tackles are just as talented and important, seeing how both starters finished in the top 10 for team tackles. Senior ex-LT Chris Norwell (12.5 tackles for loss) will lead this line to even greater heights, even if his backups aren’t quite at the same level as those of the DEs. The LBs are all returning starters, and fifth-year senior J Leman leads them after leading the Big Ten in tackles per game in ’06 (had 12.7, third-best in the nation…also has 19 TFLs…he had 191 total tackles as a prep senior!) Fellow senior OLB Antonio Steele is also great in both run-support and when dropping into coverage since he plays light, like a safety. Five-star prospect Martez Wilson has to see reps with his upside – recruited as an end, this Chicago native’s abilities, due to his 100m/200m sprint speed, have him pushing incumbent Brit Miller for MLB reps (Leman’s totals could get buffered since Wilson had 240 tackles as a prep senior himself, as well as nearly 25 yards per catch as a wideout!) With him and Leman competing for stats, this could become one of the conference’s/nation’s best corps. Still, the reserves did miss a lot of tackles in spring, so injuries could be damaging if excessive. The secondary has a young set of corners, but that isn’t a knock whatsoever. Vontae Davis is only a soph, but what he proved as a true freshman is his ability to both shut down his assignment and make the tackle every time he is close to the ball. But with foes sure to throw away from him, classmate Trevor Bellamy will pile up some impressive stats with abilities close to those of Davis. Chris Duvalt headlines the rest of the youth movement at corner, one that ominously contrasts with the situation(s) at safety. The two-deep behind them is full of upperclassmen, and although Mitchell and Harrison are quality tacklers, only Harrison shows much propensity in coverages. Bellamy playing deep center would bolster that dimension, especially with so many new faces eager to show their wares in his place. The DBs ranked 31st in both major passing categories, so returning three of their four starters should equal an even better result, right? The same goes for the entire team’s breakdown – their No.33 total defense should improve with nine starters back. But the range in quality from first- to second-team (save at DE and CB) was pretty substantial this spring, so seeing will be believing for defensive improvements in this ever-toughening conference.


LB J Leman


Returning Starters in bold
DE Derek Walker-Jr (6-4, 270) Will Davis-Jr (6-3, 235)
DT Chris Norwell-Sr (6-6, 290) Sirod Williams-Jr (6-0, 270)
DT David Lindquist-Jr (6-3, 280) Mike Ware-Sr (6-3, 285)
DE Doug Pilcher-So (6-5, 260) Antonio James-So (6-5, 265)
LB Antonio Steele-Sr (6-2, 210) Anthony Thornhill-Sr (6-1, 220)
LB Brit Miller-Jr (6-1, 245) Martez Wilson-Fr (6-4, 228)
LB J Leman-Sr (6-2, 240) Sam Carson-Jr (6-1, 245)
CB Travon Bellamy-So (6-0, 195) Chris Duvalt-So (5-11, 170)
CB Vontae Davis-So (6-0, 185) Antonio Gully-Fr (6-1, 180)
SS Justin Harrison-Sr (5-11, 215) Justin Sanders-Sr (6-1, 205)
FS Kevin Mitchell-Sr (6-0, 200) Tyler Rouse-Jr (5-10, 195)
P Kyle Yelton-So (6-0, 180) Anthony Santella-Fr (6-2, 185)




All-conference placekicker Jason Reda needs to make every kick - all four of his misses last year came in losing efforts, hence his need for perfection. Going anywhere near 15-for-19 again will win a few games with his leg, for sure. Punter Kyle Yelton isn’t powerful, yet he also hasn’t learned the art of placement very well after seeing how Illinois finished 117th in net results. Tony Santella’s spring performances way outshined Yelton’s, so expect the soph to be on a short leash and lose the starting nod once the RS frosh gets a chance. Florida A&M-transfer Will Judson shows amazing speed as a return specialist, but his hands seemed greased at times in spring scrimmages, and therefore, he will also be kept on tight reigns. Still, Illinois averaged five yards per PR and under 20 per KR, so, unless he fumbles the first ten runbacks, Judson will be given more time to show his best stuff than Yelton.