His dad played in the NFL and his godfather is an NFL Hall of Famer. Ryan Lankford might play in the NFL one day, too, but for now the skinny receiver with an affinity for cartoon backpacks is concerned about providing Illinois some momentum heading into the Big Ten season. After a career day against Charleston Southern last week, the Florida native maintains he just wants to keep doing his part.
Some of your best friends on the team are quarterbacks, is that strategical so you can get more balls thrown your way?
It's not a quarterback/wide receiver thing, that's just how it played out. We're all pretty close. I met (Nathan Scheelhaase) on my visit. Tavon Wilson was my host and I met Nate. He seemed like a cool guy, someone I could relate to. Miles Osei was my roommate freshman year and we actually still live together now. Reilly came in and he liked to joke around with us and it was like, "Well, you might as well get in with the squad, too."
How much more fun are you having this season?
I would say I'm having as much fun as I've always had since I got here. It's probably a little more fun because it's more comfortable and I know my way around. I have a car now (Ford Taurus), I used to always ride a bike. I'm just taking it a day at a time and just thank God I have this opportunity because there's tons of people back home watching me and supporting me and I have to make the most of this opportunity.
With the numbers not being there for you, was last season tough?
A little bit, but I'm a big-time team player. I was making sure I was doing my one-eleventh whenever I was on the field so we could be successful. Of course everyone wants to be the big-time guy, catching a lot of balls, but that's something that never really got to me. I'm just a team player.
Your dad (Paul) played in the NFL. What kind of advice does he give you?
He feels like he's playing it right now. He watches the game film and tells me things I should have done. We talk a lot about the whole thing because there are things that no one else will understand. There's the locker room atmosphere before the game, after the game and no one else can know how that feels because they've never been there. Playing college football and in the NFL, he really understands those things.
When you were a kid, did you fully understand what it was your dad did for a living?
Yeah, when I was about 3 or 4, when I could first really walk and catch a football, I knew that was pretty cool. There were always Miami Dolphins alumni functions that we went to and the other players' children, I grew up with them.
What did you learn playing alongside a guy like A.J. Jenkins?
Any kind of football thing, catching the ball with your hands, little things like that. Things off the field, like how to be a leader, how to have a good time but at the same time realizing that football is fun. A.J. was always having fun, but when it was time to go to work, you work.
Who's your all-time favorite receiver.
I would have to say Michael Irvin. He's my godfather, so that's kind of cool. His wife and my mom grew up together. I've always looked up to him. He's the play maker.
Do you speak with him often?
I haven't talked to him in a while. I talked to him during the recruiting process and how to handle certain things. Whenever I need to talk to him, I can always call him and ask him about that.
Who's your all-time favorite Illinois receiver?
That's a good one. We have Coach (Mike) Bellamy now. I'd have to say him. He's hanging around, telling us how it was and he's always having a good time. I'll have to go with him. He made some great plays in his time.
If you don't play pro football, what do you want to do when you leave Illinois?
I want to do something in communications, like a broadcast journalism thing. I'd like to be on TV, do some color commentary or something. Anything where I can talk. I like to talk, be around people and socialize.
You and some of the other guys are very visible whether it's a volleyball game, basketball, soccer. You guys enjoy that stuff?
I love that aspect of being a college athlete. I love that it's still like high school, but it's not like the pros yet. There's that middle ground where you can go see the girls play volleyball. You can go to the track meet, you can go to the baseball game, you can go to the hockey game. You can still have that student-body fan life and that's something I can appreciate because I guarantee you every athlete here has been to a football game or around a football game. I feel it's only right to go support them because they support us.
I hear you're really into cartoons?
Yeah, I love them. It's something just from being a kid. It keeps you young. Back in Florida, cartoon bookbags are a big thing. Who can have the coolest-looking super hero bag? In high school, I had Superman freshman year, I have a "Toy Story" one now, I'm carrying Batman today. I've got a whole bunch of them, pretty much one for every day of the week.
Do the guys here give you a hard time about that?
They did, but that's me, take it or leave it.
How have you adjusted to the weather and the culture of the Midwest?
I like the Midwest. I like that I didn't stay in Florida, which is hard to say because it snows here and it never snows there. It was nice to just get away and try something different. Now that I've lived here, I can say that I can live anywhere in the world. I've been as hot as it can get in Florida and as cold as it gets here in Illinois.
You got any stories about your teammates people might not know?
I live with Miles, he's the quiet guy, but the loud guy in the group at the same time. Miles seems like he's the innocent guy, but a lot of times he's an instigator. We're both in our own room playing NCAA and it sounds like it's a real game. He gets really loud yelling at the game. Reilly is a funny guy, he sings a lot of funny songs.
What about you?
I'm the jokester. I feel like I'm one of the big-time jokesters and I feel like I can never lie because I just start laughing, I've always got a little smirk. I can't get away with anything.