Trulon Henry is former Illinois star Arrelious Benn's older brother. He transferred from College of DuPage and is now a starter at free safety for the Illini. He is happy for the role but knows improvement is needed.
"I've got a lot more work to do."
He is grateful to be a starter, but he is mature enough to understand the responsibility that comes with it.
"I just can't let them down. Coach (Vic Koenning) tries to put a lot of pressure on you and get you ready for a game. Yelling and throwing stuff, he kind of makes a crazy environment for you so you can get used to the pressure."
Henry worried about his play in the spring since he has much to learn and couldn't just relax and fly to the ball. But those experiences have helped him now.
"Yes, it's been a big improvement. I'm an entirely different person from the spring. This person is demanding more. It makes you play harder and prepare yourself better as far as getting into the playbook and stuff like that."
He is working hard on the technique he needs to improve.
"Reading my keys. Play action pass, reading my keys so I know whether it's pass or it's run."
Henry could see team improvement throughout the summer.
"The summer helped us come together as brothers. You can see the camaraderie coming together on the defensive side of the ball."
That unity is necessary to help everyone get through the tough practices Illini coaches force on them.
"We pick up from our coaches. We can't have a flat day. We can't have a lazy day or a day we don't feel like being out here. It's hard work, push, push, push. It's like squeezing juice out of a lemon. Coach is gonna squeeze the work out of us."
Numerous up-downs or pursuit drills after practice have encouraged defenders to focus on every play and eliminate mistakes. Henry joked they might start doing up-downs during games out of instinct when mistakes are made.
"Definitely. If we all run to the ball, we're gonna be something to deal with. We'll do that or faint, one way or the other."
The 26 year old Henry is the elder statesman for the team. That allows him to serve an important leadership role whether he is a starter or not.
"Definitely. Even if I was second or third string, I'd still have a lot to offer as far as keeping your head up if somebody gets a big play scored on them. Try to talk them up, get them back going.
"A lot of guys aren't used to having a bad play on them. What happens is someone gets scored on and they have their head down the rest of practice. Being older I can shake that off and help talk to some of the other guys to be a leader and help them keep their heads up and move on."
The free safety actually operates more as a typical strong safety for the Illinois defense. Henry has pass responsibilities, but a big part of his game is filling holes on running plays. He focused specifically in practice on Illini Mikel Leshoure since he reminds of some of the other top backs in the Big 10.
"I have one guy on my mind. I won't say the name but number 5. I call him "Longshore". I have to get him. The way I look at it is that our running back corps is one of the best in the country. If we can go and hit them and tackle them then it will prepare us well for the run.
"I think I'm ready for some of these backs. I tackled (Jason) Ford a few times, and he and John Clay (Wisconsin) are both big backs. I'm not worried about a big name, just going out, using my technique and playing the game."
Henry should be ready for the physicality of Big 10 football. After all, he went against Benn growing up.
"My brother and I are both big and physical, both of us bring energy. I play with my heart, he plays with his heart. We're both similar on the field.
"It's intense when we go at it. The last time we did one on one's, he may have caught 3 out of 5 on me. I got physical and let him know that just because he was a little taller I could cover him.
"In our household we competed against each other, so he was just trying to be better than me. If I made freshman of the year in high school, he wanted to. It just went on and on, and he was a beast of an athlete."
Unlike many defenders, Henry was not looking forward to the first major contact of fall drills. After all, Benn separated his shoulder in the Rantoul High School scrimmage, and that memory lingers with Henry to this day.
He said he was looking forward to hitting people instead of playing touch football. But his concern for his fellow Illini was obvious. He wanted everyone to play well, but to play without injury.
He may have been prophetic. No more than two weeks later, Supo Sanni and then Terry Hawthorne went down with injuries, depleting the defensive backfield. Fortunately Henry is still there, providing leadership, maturity and improving expertise.
His two interceptions against the Buckeyes were firsts both for him and the team this season. He is beginning to relax and have fun on the field.
"It's the fourth game and I feel more like a normal player now. I approach the game like a freshman that's hungry to learn. First game in the Big Ten is pretty exciting, but I'm getting my confidence and getting more relaxed."
Henry is humble about his interceptions, minimizing his own role.
"I was just reading the quarterback's eyes. We were in zone, and he just led me right to it. The second one was a blown coverage, and I came up because I was the free safety and helped him out. Coach is just putting us in the right position, calling the right things at the right times."
One thing he has learned so far is that he is not alone on the field. He must stay within the team concept and not try to do too much.
"Inside your head you want to be the hero, you want to be the Superman, you want to wear the ‘S' on your chest, but that's not always what's best for the team. It's a team game and sometimes people get out of the scheme of things and do things that cost us."
Henry had mixed emotions about the loss to Ohio State.
"If you play the numbers game, they're #2 in the country and they have this high-powered offense. You'd say we did well. But in our locker room, we think we're the best in the country, we believe that. We go out and try to perform, and in the end it's a bit of a letdown.
"We have to win games like these. You line up with the #2 team you have to come up with the win. Playing them close isn't good enough for me."
Illinois head coach Ron Zook is pleased with Henry's progress so far.
"Trulon continues to get better and better. Even though he's older, he hasn't played a lot of college football. When you're away from the game awhile, it takes time to get back into it. I really feel like he's come on and done a nice job."
Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning echoes those sentiments, not only with Henry's play on the field but with his hard work in overcoming previous obstacles. The interceptions helped balance the equation.
"He's been through a lot. I feel like he's one of my sons. I feel like, with all our dbs have been through, one of the reasons I'm here is to be here for those guys. I think he's a tremendous young man that's got a lot of good things ahead of him in life.
"There's been nobody who's tried harder or been more consistent. He's got a lot of things he's still got to accomplish on a daily basis. If anyone deserves to have some rewards in life, he's certainly one of them."