Offensive tackle Simon Cvijanovic played in a good high school football program at Benedictine High School in Cleveland, Ohio. But it didn't fully prepare him to go against top college defensive linemen like Corey Liuget at Illinois.
"I played against some big guys in high school, but it just is so much faster. I got to go against all these guys with the scout team a lot last year, so I'm used to going up against them. I went against Corey Liuget some."
The 6'-5" Cvijanovic was not as heavy as most college linemen entering the UI last summer. He still has a way to go before he develops the strength and size expected of major college tackles.
"I weigh 290 right now. I came in at 280 and went down to 270 due to all the running and stuff."
He spent a lot of time working with the strength and conditioning staff during his redshirt season. Little by little, it is paying off.
"I got a lot stronger. I've been trying to get my weight up and trying to work on technique. It's so much different than high school."
He has also been working to perfect all the complexities of the position. He is grateful for his redshirt year.
"It was a good time to get better with my technique and everything, learn the system. And it was a new school situation."
The initial plan was to have Cvijanovic back up Jeff Allen, a three year starter at weakside tackle. But with Corey Lewis missing from strongside tackle this spring, the youngster is now competing with fellow redshirt freshman Michael Heitz for first string status.
"Right. I'm pretty sure I was gonna be backing up Jeff Allen. But now since Corey got hurt again, me and Mike Heitz are rotating at the strong tackle."
He admits it's a big step going from non playing status to a starting berth, and he is humble about his prospects.
"I'm just trying to help out the team while Corey Lewis is out right now. I'm working and trying to earn playing time. Hopefully Corey's back for the season; we need everybody we got. If it's got to be me, it's going to be me."
Cvijanovic brings assets to the table.
"I'd say I've got good feet, I'm fast. We just got done with winter workouts, and I was one of the better guys at that."
Of course, offensive linemen don't reach their peak level of performance until they are upperclassmen. There is always more to learn.
"I want to get to know the plays better, working on pass sets and stuff. You can always get better at that stuff."
The learning should come easily, if his academic course load is any indication.
"Right now I'm in Kinesiology, but I might be switching over to Computer Science."