CHAMPAIGN — With the clock ticking down in last season's opener against Ball State, Kendrick Green stood on the sideline without having notched one snap.
It was the first time Green, then a freshman, hadn't played in a game after a standout high school career.
Green arrived in Champaign as a four-star recruit by Scout and a three-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN. He had just led Peoria High to a Class 5A state championship on the offensive and defensive line.
Even though last season's youth movement was in full force when the Illini played 22 true freshmen, Green wasn't one of them.
"When I went home, my friends said, ‘Ya’ll haven’t won any games and you don’t even play. What does that look like," Green said Wednesday at Illini football training camp.
"It is what it is."
He took a redshirt as a freshman, and in the summer moved from defensive line to offensive line. Now, a leaner and stronger Green is getting reps with the first team offensive line at left guard.
Green had summer workouts with the offensive line and has had 11 fall practices with the first-team unit.
He's still learning the playbook and new scheme, but is settling in at a position he said he is "more comfortable in."
“We understood that coming from his background of playing offensive line for Tim Thornton at Peoria, a guy who played here and a guy who knows me and knows the way I coach," offensive line coach Luke Butkus said.
“What he does well is he’s naturally aggressive. He has a defensive lineman's mentality then bringing it to the offensive line when we can move people and we can come off the ball, things we ask him to do, that’s always a plus."
When Big Ten Conference play started last season, Green saw the offensive linemen and realized he couldn't go toe-to-toe with them.
“I definitely wasn’t ready to play last year," Green said. "I’m glad I took that year off and made the switch over (to offensive line). Now I’m in a pretty good situation, running with the ones. It’s good that I redshirted."
Even though Green — a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder — has come to grips with his redshirt year and is embracing the switch to offense, it wasn't easy.
“After the season, I didn’t really have a lot of confidence in myself," Green said. "I was like, ‘Man, I redshirted on a team that won two games and finished last in conference. I must not be any good.’"
By all metrics, though, Green was good.
Before choosing Illinois, he had offers from around the country. He chose Illinois over Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Central Florida and Syracuse.
“Kendrick had a lot of offers to go elsewhere, and the entire staff battled to keep him at home. At the end of the day, he chose to come to Illinois, and we need more guys like him on this team,” Butkus said.
Green fits in with an offensive line that remains largely intact. Through camp, the first team has included Vederian Lowe alongside Green at left tackle, Doug Kramer at center, Nick Allegretti at right guard and Alex Palczewski at right tackle.
Allegretti, the elder statesman of the offensive line, said Green's transition to the offensive unit has been smooth, and that Green is an "O-lineman at heart."
“He’s looking really good," Allegretti said. "Last year I know was tough for him, most of the class played and that’s not where he wanted to be at. Coming over to the O-line, it’s the position that’s best for him. He’s hungry to play and ready to play. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far."
Last year, Green hit the weight room with 6 a.m. redshirt lifting sessions. He hasn't been turned loose on squatting his max amount, but he estimates it's near 700 pounds.
Green's squat numbers have impressed Allegretti, who says Green squats the "most he's ever seen."
“He was kind of a little wimpy when he first got here," Butkus said. "I think (strength coach Joey Boese), it’s a testament to (the weight room) and it’s a testament to not only those guys, but him. He’s put the time in. Last year, we had a lot of guys starting as freshmen, that was a big thing. Kendrick Green was a true freshman who redshirted, so he took advantage of it. Hopefully it will pay off here for all of us."
In camp, Green has battled with Jamal Milan, who has sat out of practice this week with a left leg injury, and Tymir Oliver — guys with conference experience.
Now he's ready for the strength he's gained and experience in camp to translate to the field when the Illini open conference play at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21 at home against Penn State.
“I want to know what it feels like to block a Big Ten defensive lineman and that’s what I’ve been working on," Green said.