Darius Millines looked the part from his first day of fall camp. The freshman receiver from American Heritage High School in Boynton Beach, Florida, carried himself like a veteran. It was no surprise he saw action in the Missouri game, although his degree of relaxation was.
"I never was nervous, to be honest. My first play the first game was a kickoff return. I wasn't nervous at all."
An injury to a starter gave him a chance to start on the outside against Northern Illinois.
"It feels great. I didn't get many plays against Mizzou. I got more plays against SIU. Then when Eddie (McGee) went down, I knew it was gonna be on me to come in and start. I just kept working hard and working hard."
Receiver coach Paul Petrino is a tough task master. Millines loves working with him.
"He's a great coach. He's a GREAT coach. I love how he pushes me all the time. If a coach doesn't push me, you should be worried. If you get pushed by a coach, you know you have potential.
"He helps us a lot. He's out there running around with us as much as he could. Telling us to move on the ball and make sure we've got it. That really helps us learn when we're out there.
"In the meetings we go over the plays, we have clips of how things are supposed to be run. I take my notes and try to remember how he teaches us how to do things so I can do it right."
The 5'-11", 180 pounder admits the offense is complex and hard to learn, but he is a quick study.
"Yes it was, but now I'm getting to learn it. I think I'm improving more and more every day, working on my takoffs, my routes and everything. So I think I should be good."
Petrino's advice has helped prevent him from slowing down as so often happens when knowledge of plays is uncertain.
"I try to get a good burst every time. Even when I'm tired I try to fight through it. So I think I'm pretty much relaxed out there. Knowing the plays, Coach Petrino just tells us to go 100%. Whatever you do, just run."
Millines impressed onlookers early in Camp Rantoul with his ability to find a second gear to catch up with errant passes. He can make up much ground rapidly.
"Yeah, it just snaps on."
Thirteen receivers reported for fall camp, competing for three positions. But the rookie was not intimidated.
"Yeah, I like competition. I love it."
Millines has speed, shiftiness and hands. He will make many great plays in his four years at Illinois. But he is also drawing praise for his downfield blocking. His willingness to sustain his block enabled Mikel Leshoure to find the end zone at the end of the NIU game.
"I played quarterback mainly in high school my senior year. But my high school coach when I was a receiver, we did a lot of stalking drills where we went out at a db, broke down and shuffled our feet. So I just used that out here and just blocked. That made me feel real good, knowing I had the block that really sealed the deal."
That sounds simple enough, but many receivers are considered the pretty boys of a football team. They behave like blocking is beneath them. Not Millines.
"Some receivers just want to get the ball and don't want to block. But I'm a team player. As long as we win I'm all right with it."
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase offered these words of praise for his young and talented receiver.
"He's a heck of a receiver. For a young guy, he's really grasped the offense well. The big thing you'll see is how he gets down the field and make those big plays.
"But we also know he's probably one of our best blocking receivers. He really gets after it. I remember in one scrimmage, he had a play were he was supposed to crack the linebacker Ian Thomas. He did a heck of a job and was able to stop him cold. From then on, we all knew Darius was a good football player.
"He does a lot of things right, he's been working hard all throughout fall camp and into the season. So I think he's definitely ready for the opportunity. I think he'll do a great job for us."