Jaylen Dunlap Q&A
Jaylen Dunlap is a name Tim Beckman has mentioned often. Since practices started in early August, the Crete-Monee product was always one of the first players Beckman talked about when asked which true freshmen stood out. Dunlap, who helped Crete-Monee win a Class 6A state title last November in Champaign, has proved why. Dunlap is trying to accomplish what his former high school teammate, Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, is doing down in Oxford. Grab the attention of college football fans. He has played in all five games this season for Illinois and is often tested against the opponent’s top wide receivers. For instance, in the game against Washington at Soldier Field, he was matched up against Kasen Williams on multiple plays. Williams was the 2011 Parade All-American Player of the Year. Dunlap was a two-star recruit who committed to Illinois a few weeks before signing day last February, almost like an afterthought. He’s far from an afterthought now. Before Dunlap, who wasn’t even old enough to vote when he went through his first Camp Rantoul, gets ready for a primetime game against Wisconsin, the well-spoken 18-year-old sat down to give the scoop on his favorite sports teams, where his confidence stems from and where he likes to get a bite to eat on campus.
How would you rate your freshman season?
I feel like I’ve been doing good, but I feel like I could do better. I don’t really compare it to any other freshman. I compare it to a senior. I watch the all-conference corners, and I feel like I’m not there yet. That’s where I want to be. I just need to keep working. I want to be all-conference. I want to be all-freshman everything. I want to make an impact on the team and make plays that seniors and juniors are making.
Have you always been a confident player?
Yeah, confident, but humble. I started playing football when I was 5. Ever since then, I’ve always felt that football was football. The stage gets bigger, but it’s still football. When I’m on the field, I really don’t feel the big crowd. Walking on the field you see it, but you’ve got to lock it out and play with poise. That’s probably things people don’t think freshmen can do. I want to do all the things that upperclassmen do.
How often did you go against Laquon Treadwell in practice at Crete-Monee?
That helped a lot. Every time we go home, we still go against each other every time. That’s all we did is we went up against each other every day. When the coaches came to recruit, the coaches wanted to see me and him going up against each other. They wanted to see the best going against the best. I feel like I made him better, and he definitely made me better. We went at it a lot.
Why’d you come to Illinois?
It was the chance to play in the Big Ten. This was my only Big Ten offer, so I always felt like I could play against the best. I didn’t want to sell myself short by going to play in the MAC. I wanted to play against the best.
What was the whole recruiting process like for you?
Stressful. When I say stressful, I always felt I deserved a scholarship, and I felt that I was getting overlooked for it since I was a sophomore. I just kept pushing and fighting forward and just kept playing great. Throughout the season, I always played to win, but once I made a play, I always thought that’s what was going on my highlight tape. Even when we were blowing teams out, I used to get mad when the coach used to yank us because I probably only averaged playing two quarters. At the end of the season, I picked up my first two offers two weeks after the last game. They were from Eastern Michigan and UAB. They both came on the same day, so I was just happy and thrilled. They probably weren’t the schools I dreamed about going to, but to know that I could have school paid for was a true blessing.
When did Illinois enter the picture?
Illinois’ offer came about two weeks after UAB and Eastern Michigan offered. It was around the same time Western Michigan offered. It was a no-brainer to come to Illinois, but I didn’t not want to take my visits and go blind to a school just because I had a Big Ten offer.
Did you have a chip on your shoulder because you didn’t have that many offers?
I felt I had something to prove, and I still feel like I have something to prove going against the schools that didn’t offer me. Every time we face someone (in the Big Ten), I feel like I have something to prove.
How do you wrap your head around the fact that a year ago you were playing high school teams and now you’re going up against Big Ten teams?
It’s almost the same thing. Of course, the talent is different, but the preparation is the same. I believe in practice makes perfect. I love getting reps. Whether you’re playing and it’s a Friday night or a Saturday night, high school or college, the reps are going to prepare you for the game. Coach stresses the plays you make throughout the week, don’t be surprised you’ll make them in the game.
Are you still having flashbacks to that near pick-six you had against Miami (Ohio)?
Oh yeah. It was a perfect read. It was a perfect break. I lost sleep over that one.
What NFL or college cornerbacks do you admire?
In the NFL, probably Patrick Peterson. It was Darrelle Revis, but when he got injured, he kind of fell off. Patrick Peterson is a great corner. I like his physicality, his cover skills, his speed and his ball awareness. In college, I’d have to say me.
Do you know where everything is on campus yet?
I don’t get lost. There’s really a daily schedule. The things we do, we do a lot. Really, we wake up and do the same things over and over again. Being an athlete, that’s just how it is. I enjoy going to Chipotle. I get the steak bowl there.
Your brother, Steven Dunlap, recently was a wide receiver at Bowling Green. Your uncle, Keith Otis, started 28 games at Northern Illinois as the Huskies’ right tackle in 2010 and 2011. How much did that help you?
It influenced me a lot. It made me want to go play college football. I talk to my brother every day. My brother is still my role model. He led the way for me.
You’re a big Juice Williams fan. What did you like about him?
He was a playmaker. That’s what I love. If you’re a playmaker, I love it. I was always a fan of Juice Williams. And Martez Wilson, too. A lot of kids out of Chicago that went to Illinois.
Have you had a chance to meet them?
Chris James, the wide receiver that went here a couple years ago, he was like my trainer, so we worked out a lot. And Juice Williams came through a couple times.
What Chicago sports teams do you like watching?
I’m a Bulls fan and a Bears fan.
Was it difficult seeing Derrick Rose sit out last season?
Definitely. When you know you can make certain plays, but being hurt or injured might hinder you a little bit, that’s the worst feeling. I haven’t really been injured, but being an athlete, all athletes go through that thought, so I can kind of relate to how he felt.
Where do you think your maturity came from?
My big brother. Being around him all the time, you have to be mature. If you talk too much or act immature, you’d have to go back in the house. He wouldn’t let me hang out with him anymore, so I just learned that at an early age.
Who’s your dream date?
A night on the town with Lauren London or a pick-six against Wisconsin?
A pick-six. Definitely. Football over anything. No girl is as important as football.