Duvalt hopes switch to wide receiver gets him on the field
Illinois junior Chris Duvalt has plenty of speed, but his climb up the depth chart at cornerback had been anything but fast. So when he returned for the spring semester, Duvalt asked for a switch to wide receiver.
"I saw the wide receiver spot was thin,'' Duvalt said. "I thought we were established at cornerback. I went over to wide receiver because I knew I could play the position.
"It was kind of hard starting over. It's another opportunity to get on the field. I've got two ways I can go. I can still go back to corner, but I'm not going back.''
While the wide receiver position gets more crowded with two touted freshmen arriving this summer, it's not as tough to get playing time there as cornerback, where the Illini return starters Vontae Davis and Dere Hicks. Sophomore Marcus Thomas also made an impact at the position last season. Otherwise, talent moved away from cornerback.
Sophomore Travon Bellamy, a former cornerback who had 33 interceptions during his high school career (including 14 as a sophomore and 11 as a senior), shifted to safety, where he is a leading candidate to fill one of two openings after he overcame two shoulder surgeries last fall. He was considered a starting cornerback in Camp Rantoul last August before the shoulder problems.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Duvalt, who played in 10 games last season and recorded four tackles, found a home on the other side of the ball. He is expected to earn playing time this fall.
"I still have a long way to go, but with what I've proven now, I think I put myself in the rotation at wide receiver,'' he said. "I knew it in January, the second time out there (during drills with the quarterbacks). I knew this was pretty good.''
If there was any question over his ability to catch, Duvalt made an eye-opening one-handed grab on the third day of spring practice to end doubt. Named the player of the year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association, Duvalt had 50 tackles and five interceptions while also catching 17 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns as a senior at Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, Fla.
"When he came in here, he could play offense or defense,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "He couldn't feel himself getting on the field now in the secondary. He's a playmaker and a guy who can run. He wants to get on the field.''
Duvalt also clocked a 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Nike camp in Tallahassee. Along with Jeff Cumberland, Will Judson and Davis, Duvalt is one of the fastest on the Illini roster.
"There are a lot of fast guys on this team,'' Duvalt said. "I don't know who would win, but I'm in the final heat.''
SCRIMMAGE: Illinois will scrimmage in the Chicago area for the second straight year. The session starts Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lemont High School.
To reach the field, exit I-55 on Lemont Road south. Follow Lemont Road, then turn left (east) on Illinois Street, then right (south) on Stephen Street/McCarthy Road. Turn left (north) on Julia Street and follow to the high school campus, the south parking garage and the west lot.
The north and east lots can be accessed by turning right (south) on Julia Street, then left (east) on Porter Street. The football field is located on the east side of the campus.
UPDATES: Sophomore left guard Randall Hunt and sophomore right tackle Ryan Palmer appear to be settling into first-string slots, filling holes left by graduating seniors Martin O'Donnell and Akim Millington. . .Senior defensive tackle Sirod Williams has been spending time on the first team ahead of sophomore Josh Brent. Senior David Lindquist, who has 13 consecutive starts, fills one starting spot at defensive tackle. . . Redshirt freshman quarterback Phil Haig is playing baseball full time this spring, a strong hint that he's not expecting to stick with Illini football. . .
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read his Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com .