CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — In a room full of excitement, all Tailon Leitzsey could feel was relief.
“That was the first night in six years that I actually slept for eight hours, that night was the best sleep I ever had,” Leitzsey said.
For the last three seasons, Leitzsey was working food delivery jobs to help pay for school, but when the walk-on was surprised with a full scholarship, a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Now, the defensive back can focus on school, football, and taking care of his six-month old daughter Kairi, with his girlfriend Cherese.
“It was just one of the major things was was weighing on me, knowing that I have to provide for my family, and pay for school, so that was a major thing,” he said.
Tailon’s journey from walk-on to scholarship all started with a leap of faith three years ago.
Without even talking to the coaching staff, he drove from his parents’ house in South Carolina to Champaign. He slept in a parking lot across the street from Memorial Stadium, for more than a week, while he tried to earn a spot on the team.
“I had zero doubts that I would make the team, it was just getting in front of the coaches,” Leitzsey said. “I was like, ‘Look, I’m not coming up here asking for a scholarship or nothing, I just want an opportunity to try out,'” Leitzsey reflected.
He showed Lovie Smith’s staff his film from a brief stint at Missouri Baptist, an NAIA school. They didn’t have his major there, which drew him to transfer and pursue Kinesiology at Illinois.
From there, Litzsey starting practicing with the team, and made it on the roster.
“What drove me is understanding that it’s not impossible,” Leitzsey said. “Even if it’s one in a million there’s still that 1% chance that I could do it. Why not shoot for it?”
The senior has played in just one game for the Illini, but says his story isn’t over, because a scholarship doesn’t mean satisfaction.