URBANA — The roars got louder and louder with each victory by Calvin Avery.
In one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen on Friday at Illinois football training camp, Avery beat offensive lineman Kievan Myers and the rest of the defensive line celebrated accordingly.
The two lined up again immediately afterwards and Avery won again. Right after that, the two faced off a third time and Avery finished off the sweep of that particular matchup. He was fatigued and surrounded by his defensive line teammates, each yelling louder than the next.
It was part of a stellar day from Avery, the sophomore defensive tackle from Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas, Texas, to close the portion of training camp that is open to both fans and the media with just 15 days until the Illini open the season at home against Akron on Aug. 31.
The hope is that Friday's practice was another building block for consistency.
“Today was the best he’s looked in training camp, and I’ve got to look at the tape, but probably the best practice I’ve ever seen him have," defensive line coach Austin Clark said. "Just being able to stack days together now is going to be a challenge, but he’s turning a corner."
Avery sees himself as a "key backup" on the Illinois football team with the ability to come in and provide good, quality snaps along the line. It was an adjustment from being the baddest guy along the defensive line in high school.
When he got to Illinois, he had to work on conditioning and adapting to the speed of the college game. He played in all 12 games last year with 18 tackles, and 1.5 tackles for loss. He wasn't playing as often as he did when he was in high school. Avery faced an adjustment period, but said he's fitting into his role better now heading into his second season.
“Coming out of high school it was harder for me," Avery said. "I was like, “Wow, I’m really not in. I’m not starting,’ But as I’m getting older, I realize it’s not always about me. It’s about the team. It’s mainly stepping into my role for the team.
"It would be nice to start, but at the end of the day when the team needs you, they’ll call your name. That’s basically how it’s coming right now."
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Good practices like Friday are equally as frustrating as encouraging. He's shown the flashes of the talent he brings to the Illini, but has yet to find consistency. That's a big step in Avery's development as a dominant interior defensive lineman, and Clark calls Avery the most powerful interior rusher on the team.
“When he doesn’t practice the way he practiced (Friday), you’re like, ‘Hey man, what’s going on? If you’re a guy who wants to be an elite college player, you’ve got to put days together,'" Clark said. "I tell our guys all the time: You’ve got to be the same guy every day, whatever that is for you. It’s my job, and our job as coaches, to keep a thumb on you and push you to reach your maximum potential.
"It’s those guys who are consistent, those Bobby Roundtree guys, who can be great players here. If he can do that, he can be a great player. No question."
Avery is working to mold his body into the ideal playing shape. He said the coaching staff would like to see him between 310 and 315 pounds.He's listed at 330, but said he's down to 329. Clark called Avery's work ethic and losing weight a "work in progress."
There's another step Avery needs to take.
"Calvin is not where he needs to be," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said on Tuesday. "There are some things he needs to do, and until he takes care of those things he cannot take the next step. It's as simple as that."
Prior to coming to Illinois as a four-star recruit with offers from Missouri, Nebraska, Florida State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and more, Avery never had to worry about reshaping his body.
"In high school I was the dominant player," Avery said. "They weren’t really trippin’ about it. I was getting to the ball, making plays and they didn’t think it was a factor. Now since I’m at a higher level, people are faster, things might be slower to me so they think it’s a factor towards it."
Avery knows it's a mental commitment to get his conditioning down, and the benefits are on the horizon.