Illini shuffle to replace starting safety Sanni

A season-ending injury has altered the Illini depth chart, leading coaches to shuffle players around on both sides of the ball.

Junior Supo Sanni, who was penciled in as a starter at safety, ruptured his Achilles tendon at practice on Wednesday and will be sidelined for the upcoming season.

“It’s part of the game,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “You have to keep going.”

Even before Sanni’s injury, depth in the secondary was an area of concern for the team. The coaching staff moved sophomore Justin Green from running back to cornerback on Tuesday.

Green was expected to be a backup cornerback, but now finds himself in a starting role. Junior Tavon Wilson, who was listed as a starting cornerback prior to Sanni’s injury, has now moved to safety, with Green taking his place.

Even with limited time until the season-opener against Missouri on Sept. 4, Zook said he expects Green to be ready to start.

“I don’t think there’s any question (he’ll be ready),” Zook said. “He’ll be on the field. I don’t know where he’ll be, but he’ll play.”

Also changing positions is redshirt freshman Steve Hull, who moves from wide receiver to safety. Hull, who made the switch immediately after Sanni’s injury, impressed his teammates and coaches in his first practice on the defensive side, even intercepting former roommate and starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase during a two-minute drill.

Hull said that in “a perfect world,” he would like to stay at receiver, but also noted that switching to the defense would allow him to receive more playing time.

“I’m just doing everything I can do to help the team,” Hull said. “Coach came to me with a proposition to help the team, and I’m going to do what I can.”

With Sanni’s injury, senior Travon Bellamy will step into the starting safety position opposite junior Trulon Henry. Wilson and sophomore Joelil Thrash will backup Bellamy, while Hull will backup Henry.

Both Green and fellow starting cornerback sophomore Terry Hawthorne came to campus as highly-touted offensive players, only to be switched to defense. Green, though, was recruited by several schools as a cornerback, and Hull also played safety in high school.

“We’ll take them both back any time,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. “But right now they’re doing a great job over there, and I think that’s what’s best for the team, so we’re excited about it and we’ll get better every day.”

Last year’s starter Garrett Edwards decided against returning this season despite having a year of eligibility remaining, and sophomore Walt Aikens, also a returning starter, was dismissed from the University this week after pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft charges during the summer.