Eaton Spence arrived at Illinois from Belle Glades, Florida, last summer. He needed a redshirt year to adapt to college and the complexities of a sophisticated defense. He benefitted from the experience.
"My redshirt year, I just worked on my technique. Getting better, getting used to the game because it is a lot faster than high school. I love it up here."
Even with the colder weather?
"This is my first time in cold weather. It could be worse than this, but it's good."
Adjusting to a college academic load required an even bigger adjustment.
"Yeah, that was real tough. But I'm getting help whenever I need it."
Spence played mostly on the scout squad last fall, so this spring is his first chance to get extensive training at cornerback.
"It feels good just to come out here and work. I'm learning from the older guys; they're all helping me out so I can get on the field. Coach (Beckman) says we're going to need everybody, so we're helping each other out so we all can play."
With so few players at his position, he didn't have much rest in spring practices. But Spence has no complaints.
"I love getting a lot of reps."
The 5'-10", 175 pounder shares what he has improved most in practices.
"Technique, getting used to the game and getting used to the players. Everybody is better than in high school, and there's a lot more competition. The biggest transition is getting used to going against these players every day."
Spence has a special appreciation for cornerback coach Steve Clinkscale.
"Coach Clinkscale is great. He's really teaching us a lot of stuff. He's shown us all different techniques. He's just a good coach; I like him as a person and a coach."
He also works with defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who spends time with the secondary as safety coach.
"Coach Banks is a great guy too. He doesn't always say much, but he knows what he's talking about. He's all business when he does say something.
"All of us are in the same DB group. Coach Banks is a good defensive coordinator, and he teaches things you ought to know to play for him."
Overall, Spence is excited about the entire coaching staff and has a clear understanding what he must do to see playing time this fall.
"They came in here and told us how they were going to do things. If we do it, we're really going to win. You've just got to trust them."
He didn't play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but he benefitted in multiple ways.
"It was great out there in San Francisco. I had never been out there. I had a great time, but we also put in the work. I was on the scout team, trying to get these guys better while we were out there. I got myself better too."
The Fighting Illini football team lacks depth in the defensive backfield. Fortunately, redshirt freshman Eaton Spence is coming along to back up senior starter Terry Hawthorne. The Floridian will learn from the senior and be ready for a starting role next year.