CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Caleb Griffin has always been a competitor, something he hasn’t been able to necessarily show as kicker.
“You jog onto the field, take a few steps back, and then you kick and jog off the field,” Griffin said. “There’s not much athleticism going on out there.”
The former four-sport athlete at Danville has played in just four games in his three year career at Illinois. As the backup kicker, Griffin had a chance to flash his athleticism, returning punts against Iowa last season. That competitive edge is something head coach Bret Bielema also noticed during their winter workouts.
“I started watching all these drills, everybody else is sweating, hands over their head, mouth breathing, trying to get air in their lungs, and Caleb is just walking around and handling it,” Bielema said.
“I’ve always tried to win the workouts, and try to be the best in my group, and I think just doing that over the years just prepared me for now,” added Griffin.
That sparked a conversation to get Griffin some reps at wide receiver. He’s never played the position before, with the exception of a few snaps in high school. The soon-to-be fourth-year junior has continued to impress after just the first week of spring ball.
“He’s always in, coming in early in the morning trying to learn the plays, learn the skills, and learn the techniques,” Illinois receivers coach George McDonald said. “But he’s a natural athlete so it’s been very exciting working with him.”
“It’ll be exciting to go make some plays, go against somebody else, because when you’re kicking it’s you vs. you,” Griffin said. “But being on offense, there’s a corner standing on the other on the other side of me so it’s me vs. him.”
Griffin is still taking reps at kicker, along with returning starter James McCourt. Come the fall, Griffin could make a permanent switch to receiver if the spring goes well, and he hopes to be scoring touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.
“Just being able to be out there, and show my athleticism, and show that I haven’t lost that over the years,” Griffin said.