CHAMPAIGN – There is no chance Jarred Fayson will ever forget his late brother Arius. All he has to do is look in the mirror.
Tattooed on the upper half of Fayson's chest are the date of his brother's birth and death. The latter was June 29, 2008.
"He was the apex of my family," Jarred Fayson said of his brother. "He was my father figure in my life because I did not know my father growing up."
According to newspaper accounts, Arius Fayson was riding a motorcycle on I-75 in Tampa, Fla. Driving at a high rate of speed, he struck the back of an SUV and was pronounced dead the next morning at an area hospital. He was 26.
"It took a lot out of me," Fayson said. "It took a lot out of my close-knit family. My family's real small. Losing my brother, I wouldn't say it was a step back for me, but it helped me put a lot of things in perspective in my life and made me want to go out there and really be a go-getter."
His brother's death forced Fayson to rethink his own life.
"I was devastated," Fayson said. "I had to grow up. He had two younger kids, with one on the way. I was an uncle.
"When he left, I'm the only other male left in the family. At the age of 21, I don't have any kids myself, but I have my niece and nephew that I have to try to look out for and provide for them when I can."
The tattoo is Fayson's way of honoring his late brother, who was a standout basketball player at Tampa Chamberlain.
Fayson now has an avenue to deal with the pain of losing his brother: the football field. After sitting out the 2008 season as a transfer from Florida, Fayson will be eligible to play in 2009.
The receiver got off to a good start in the spring, impressing the Illinois coaches and players with his ability and attitude.
"You have to play this game on edge," Fayson said. "You can't come out there and be lackadaisical. You've got to be ready to jump on top of somebody when you're playing them. That's how the game is supposed to be played. That's how it should be played. And that's what I try to get out there and portray. Attack first."
Sitting out the 2008 season was difficult.
"It was real tough," Fayson said. "But at the same time, it was a humbling experience, so I appreciate every bit of it."
Fayson is expected to be a major contributor in 2009, helping to take some of the pressure off All-Big Ten receiver Arrelious Benn.
"Hopefully, we'll be in a situation where they just can't key on one guy," Fayson said. "That's what we're working toward."
Fayson can't wait for the opener against Missouri on Sept. 5.
"Real emotional, but a lot of fun," Fayson said. "I've got a lot to prove."
Illinois receivers coach Jim Pry said Fayson's most important job before the opener is to get into "playing shape."
"He's not in playing shape in terms of running his route, sticking his foot and doing it again and again and again and again," Pry said. "He's working on that. He knows how to run routes and he knows how to catch the ball. He's an experienced guy for as young as he is. He just needs a little bit of time, basically."
Fayson promises to do whatever is necessary.
"It's hard to simulate the game," Fayson said. "But Sept. 5, I'll definitely be ready to go."
Pry said the combination of Fayson, Benn and the rest of the Illinois receivers could be a pain for opposing defenses.
"I honestly, right now, could put eight guys out there and feel comfortable about playing on Saturday," Pry said.
Benn has become a Fayson fan. The junior expects a big season from his workout buddy.
"Me and Fayson did a lot of work in the offseason," Benn said. "He showed me some things and I showed him some things. He's a great player. He learns well. He picks up things well. He's going to be a show this year."
"We need each other," Fayson said.