Parade magazine named Terry Hawthorne the top high school receiver in the nation. Rivals.com rated him No. 6. He won an Illinois state championship for East St. Louis Senior High School.
Hawthorne has since come to Champaign to play wide receiver for Illinois. The freshman has his first game for the Fighting Illini on Saturday against Missouri at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
In his news conference Tuesday, Illinois coach Ron Zook said Hawthorne has a chance to get into Saturday’s game. But Hawthorne likely won’t line up at wide receiver, the position he has earned so many accolades for playing. Hawthorne is more likely to get on the field as a defensive back.
Because of an injury to cornerback Miami Thomas, Hawthorne has been working on defense in practice.
“You always talk about guys that could play other positions and changes and so forth,” Zook said. “I think with the fact of losing Miami, you’re one guy down in the secondary there. Here’s a guy, if any of you watched him in the state championship game, was a very, very talented guy. He’s a tough guy, he can run. We’ve kind of worked him in there where I think he’s got a pretty good chance to play.”
Although Hawthorne is playing defensive back, Zook said the switch is likely not permanent, though he did leave open the possibility that Hawthorne might only play on defense this season.
“The offensive coaches made me put it in writing that they had the ability to bring him back on offense, if we did so make that move,” Zook said. “So, no, I think Terry’s a guy that’s a very talented guy. I would probably see Terry going back to offense.”
Zook also said Hawthorne might become a rare breed of college football player later in his career.
“Here’s a guy that could play two ways,” Zook said. “I tried to get Vontae (Vontae Davis) to play both ways. But Vontae’s one of those guys that ran out of gas.”
Although he might play Hawthorne, Zook said he would like to limit the number of freshmen he plays in Saturday’s game.
“They’re maybe not ready to go Saturday,” Zook said. “In this type of a game, a big, big competitive game.”
Zook said opening with Missouri, who has beaten Illinois the past two years, helps keep his team motivated during summer practices.
“That’s one thing you can benefit by playing the type of opponent that we’re playing in Missouri,” he said. “Is that it forces your guys to get ready.”
Missouri and Illinois annual game in St. Louis is not scheduled to continue after next season. Zook said he wanted to focus on Saturday, but expressed mixed emotions about opening against Missouri in a neutral-site game.
“When he (Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther) talked to me about it, the first thing I thought of was the Florida/Georgia game,” Zook said. “It’s a great environment, it’s a neutral site and it’s 50-50. I just think it’s great for both programs. On the same token, I think we would all like to have eight home games or seven home games or the most home games that you can have.”