Illinois football players settling into new roles


Quentin Shaw

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith looks out over the field during the game against Wisconsin on Oct. 28. The Illini lost 24-10.

By Tatiania Perry, Assistant sports editor

Switching positions has become quite the norm in college football. 

Whether it be a high school quarterback coming into college as a wide receiver or a seasoned college quarterback moving to tight end, something the Illini saw last season with former team member Chayce Crouch, a position change is common.

Though Crouch’s midseason move may have come as a shock to some Illini fans, many position switches take place in the offseason during spring ball.

The most recent switches for Illinois come from players Justice Williams and Kendall Smith, who came to the coaching staff after last season seeking a new place on the field.

Recruited at wide receiver, Smith played in all 12 games during his freshman season, primarily on special teams. Williams joined him, as he has played primarily on special teams during his two years with the Illini.

Toward the start of the 2017 campaign, head coach Lovie Smith found he was in need of a few more players to help out on the scout team, a group of players who are meant to mimic an opposing team’s style, and looked toward Williams for the job.

Looking back, Williams recalls this as an informal tryout for a position he hasn’t touched since his high school days. 

“It’s been a while. (I’m) just trying to shake the rust off,” Williams said.

After few conversations with the coaches at the conclusion of the season, Smith decided his talents would serve better on the other side of the ball at the safety position.

“Both players wanted to play (a new) position,” Lovie said. “Both are good athletes and it is our job to get our best athletes in the best spot.”

Though the conversations with the coaching staff helped, Kendall insisted the choice to switch to safety was entirely his own. Unlike Williams, the Bolingbrook native hasn’t played this position before, but he believes the change will help show his full potential. 

“It’s like you see the game from a completely different side,” Kendall said. “At receiver, you only see the one little spot and you got your key men, at safety you see the entire field.”

He is positive the transition will continue to be a smooth one, especially since he still has three more years of eligibility to utilize in the new role.

Both have impressed the coaching staff only two weeks into spring ball.

“Justice brings something a little different than the rest of the guys: size,” Lovie said. “You know blocking is a big part of what we do too so that should be big. And Kendall upgraded the athletic ability at the safety position. I’m very pleased with what he has done, (with) both of the guys.”

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