Vontae Davis announces intent to enter NFL Draft


Vontae Davis celebrates after intercepting the ball intended for an Iowa player late in the fourth quarter. Erica Magda

By Daniel Johnson

For the second-straight year, Illinois will lose one of its top players to the NFL Draft, as starting cornerback Vontae Davis announced Monday afternoon that he will forego his senior season.

Like running back Rashard Mendenhall last year, Davis returned to his hometown to make the announcement official, saying he has done very little except file the necessary paperwork to begin the process and that he feels he is at his best in terms of honing his ability for the professional ranks.

“We really haven’t been through rounds (of the draft) or anything, we’ve just been going through legal things,” Davis said in a teleconference. He later stated that paperwork had indicated him as “potential first round.”

The Washington, D.C., native has become one of the most decorated players for the Illini in recent seasons. He earned unanimous Freshmen All-American honors, was named to the First-Team All-Big Ten the past two years and made the Jim Thorpe Award Semifinals for the nation’s best defensive back the past two years.

Davis said that he weighed the opinions of Illinois head coach Ron Zook and the now-departed Mike Locksley, as well as his high school coach Craig Jefferies and his grandmother Adaline Davis.

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“I thank Coach Zook and all my teammates at Illinois who have helped me get to this place,” Davis said. “Because I was able to get on the field early at Illinois and because Coach Zook believed in me so much, I think I am ready for the new challenge that professional football brings. I have had great support from everyone – starting with my family and Coach Jeffries at Dunbar – who have helped me come to this very important decision. I know there is a lot of work ahead of me, but I am very excited about the journey I am about to begin.”

Zook released a short statement Monday morning addressing his player’s decision.

“I am very happy and proud for Vontae,” Zook said. “We knew when he arrived on campus three years ago, that he was an athlete capable of making the jump from college football to the professional game.”

The cornerback said that he is hoping to spend time with his brother, Vernon, in the coming months as the season winds down for the San Francisco 49ers.

“Hopefully, I can spend as much time as possible with him, he might be able to help me in the process,” Davis said. “I might even ask him, wherever I train, if it’s possible that he can train also; we could get better at the same time.”

Although there was some speculation that Davis’ decision may have been affected by the Illini’s 5-7 finish, he dispelled the rumor, not giving it any credence as a determining factor in his decision.

“It didn’t really weigh in my decision; I’m just going off being the best football player I can possibly be,” he said.

Davis totaled 206 tackles, seven interceptions, and 22 pass breakups during his three-year career at Illinois.