The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder is hard to miss when walking around campus, and his name is hard to pronounce. But, if the sophomore right tackle continues to progress, he’ll be a household name by the time his career at Illinois is complete. The self-proclaimed “big Whitney fan” — not the TV show — won’t make his name, however, as a pass-catching tight end.
How often does someone pronounce your name properly? The phonetic spelling in the (media guide) was wrong last year, so people got the wrong idea right away. I think they had sve-JAHN-oh-vic or something like that. You don’t pronounce the “J”, the “J” is like a “Y”. It’s sve-YAHN-oh-vitch.
At what age were you able to pronounce it? It wasn’t tough for me to pronounce it, but I didn’t know how to spell it until like second grade. My mom would do the “Mickey Mouse Club” thing by singing it out like “C-V-I, J-A-N, O-V-I-C. It’s Croatian.
How have you and the rest of the offensive line handled the heat that you’ve come under this season? I think we’ve grown significantly as a group as the season has progressed. I think we’ve gotten better each week as far as knowing how to play as a group and knowing how to block each play and how each play has to work. I think it’s gotten better.
What’s it like playing for a guy named Butkus? It’s great. He gets us fired up every day to come out to practice and just get better. He’s got a lot of energy.
What are the benefits of playing for a guy who played here and had some success at this level doing what you’re doing? I like having a young coach, and he still knows how to do the things he’s coaching us to do. He can relate to us really well. He can do the techniques with us, and it’s easier to understand when the coach can actually do it.
Do you guys ever ask Luke Butkus stories about Dick Butkus? Not really. We stick to our football thing.
Did you ever handle the ball in high school or in youth football? No, I’ve never touched the ball.
Would you ever want to? Not at this point. I wouldn’t know what to do. I think I could play tight end, but I don’t know how good my hands are.
What would be your dream scenario as a tight end? I think I’d be afraid to catch the ball in open space and then running with it. I wouldn’t be afraid to take a hit, but having the ball coming at me in the air while I was running, I think that would be pretty scary. I wouldn’t know how to handle that.
Have you seen all the weight former All-America offensive lineman Martin O’Donnell has lost? Are you going to try to lose a bunch of weight when you’re done playing? I think the guys on the offensive line will tell you I’m going to be a skinny guy once I’m done playing. I’ve had such a hard time gaining this weight, and I’ve always been one of the skinnier guys on the line. This offseason I gained about 20-30 pounds. I was about 275 when I got here.
You had to practice against Houston Texans defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus last season. How tough was that? He was just fundamentally sound. It’s not like he was a real big hitter. He hit hard, but he didn’t come off the ball and try to just bang people. He was just fundamentally sound with his hands and staying real low. You could never get under Whitney; he was just always so low. His get-off was so fast that it was hard to stay in front of him.
What’s it like to see him on TV and doing some of those same things in the NFL? It’s great. I’m a big Whitney fan; I like cheering for him. I like cheering for him when he’s playing.
How do offensive linemen do with the ladies? We just recently had another guy get engaged. We’ve got two guys in the O-line room who are engaged (Alex Hill, Tyler Sands) and they get a whole lot of (grief) from the other guys and Coach Butkus about that. A lot of us have girlfriends, and the ones who don’t, they get made fun of.
If you guys were all single, who would do the best? Corey Lewis. Corey’s just always trying to get girls, that’s his thing.
Do women like quarterbacks or offensive linemen better? I think they like us, obviously.
Is it weird walking around as a huge human being with all the glances? Yeah, people always ask if I play football. But I played basketball in high school and lacrosse.
Did you just bang people around in lacrosse? I loved lacrosse. I wasn’t a defensive player like most people think. I played offense and scored goals.
So you do have good hands? Well, I had a stick, that’s a little different than catching a football with your hands.