CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Calvin Avery isn’t going to stuff a stat sheet, at least not at face value. His nose tackle position doesn’t tend to lend itself to double-digit tackling numbers or eye-popping stats but his presence anchoring the middle of the defensive line has been worth more to Illinois this season than anything else. The fifth-year, 330-pound lineman has made it tough for opposing offenses, clogging up the middle of the lane.
“His body’s changed and he’s a big ol’ grizzly bear out there,” Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “He’s every bit of 330 and is as light on his feet as any 330-pound guy I’ve ever seen.”
A former Top 250 ranked recruit out of Dallas, the 4-star prospect was a big get for Lovie Smith in the Class of 2018. His career hasn’t panned out quite the way he imagined nearly five years ago when he signed though. Avery has battled his weight, injuries, and inconsistency on the field, all factors holding him back. But he’s in the best shape of his life and is playing the best ball of his career. Avery has nine tackles through five games, to go along with a forced fumble and a QB hurry.
“Just believing in the defense, believing Coach B(ielema) and whatever they tell me for real,” Avery said. “A little swagger with it, I wouldn’t really know what else to put it with. If you’re confident you know you’re doing in the plays, you know you’re going to play.”
“He is comfortable in the system and he’s worked his tail off with Tank (Wright) in the offseason,” Walters said. “He’ll continue to improve as well. He kind of gets overshadowed a little bit by ‘The Law Firm’ (Keith Randolph Jr. and Johnny Newton) sitting on either side of him, but a lot of the reason those guys are making plays is because of what he’s doing and the amount of attention he’s attracting.”
Avery and the Illini (4-1, 1-1 B1G) return to the field Saturday hosting Iowa (3-2, 1-1) under the Memorial Stadium lights at 6:30 p.m. on BTN.