How is the beard growing going?
It’s going well. Actually, I was trying to eat a meal (earlier this week), and I kept eating more of my beard than I think I was food. It’s getting to the point where it’s a little bit out of hand, but I told the guys I’m going to keep it, so I’ve got to keep it throughout the season. We’ll see where it ends up.
Will it be difficult to shave it off?
It probably will be. It’s funny because Houston Bates had a beard like this just about a year ago around the same time. It might have been a little bit bigger than this. His mom made him shave it for Christmas. That was her Christmas present. He had such a hard time letting it go that he stuck it in a Ziploc bag after he shaved it. He might still have it. I’m not sure. I’m definitely going to struggle with it watching it go because I’m so used to it. I’ll probably look like a 14-year-old kid when I get rid of it, but oh, well.
How would you characterize your Illinois career?
It’s been a ride. It’s been fun. It’s been an opportunity that I told my dad that ever since I got recruited that I didn’t want to play in front of 20,000 people. I wanted to play in the Big Ten and play big Division I ball. Thankfully, Illinois gave me that opportunity. I’ve stuck it out. It’s been tough here the last couple years, and we’ve had success here as well with two bowl wins. I’ll always be an Illini. It’s been fun. I can’t thank the university and the coaches that I’ve had enough for the opportunity they’ve given me.
Is it a bit surreal that you only have four, maybe five games left at Illinois?
It is. One of my roommates, Tony Durkin, said something to me and said, “Man, you’ve only got four weeks left.” I just sat back and said, “Wow, I only have four weeks left here playing football.” I might not miss the 6 a.m. workouts right away, but it’s going to be tough coming back and watching. I feel like I just got here. I can’t believe I’ll be coming back for homecoming next year and watching my boys play.
What was going through your head when you knew the throw on the final play at Penn State was going your way?
That’s the exact reason I came to Illinois is Big Ten football. What better place to be put in a position than having your number called in that way. The result of the play, obviously, didn’t go the way we wanted. Like I told Nate, “That was my bad.” I should have knocked it away or made the catch. I didn’t do my part. That’s part of being a receiver and part of your number being called. It’s your responsibility to make the play. The thing is you learn from your mistakes. I’m not going to let that hang over my head or anybody’s head. We played a (heck) of a game against Penn State. It stinks the way it ended, but the only thing we can do is come out and fight harder this week.
Have you converted a lot of Arkansas residents into becoming Illinois fans?
I wouldn’t say I have, but my mom has. We definitely have solid fan support back home. Every week, my mom drives up 10 hours, which I couldn’t thank her more for doing that, and my dad as well. All props to them. They usually bring two or three people with them, and I’m usually struggling to find tickets.
You’re an earth, society and environment major. What is that?
That’s a good question. I get that a lot from people who say, “What are you going to do with that?” I’m like a conservation kind of guy. I’m a huge outdoors guy. I love to hunt. I was in the woods (earlier this week), and when this interview is over I’m actually getting in the truck and heading right back to the woods. I’m not 100 percent sure what I want to do with that degree. I’m keeping my options open. I do know one thing, though. I don’t want to be stuck behind a business desk the rest of my life. I couldn’t do that. I graduate in May, but I do have plans on training and give (the NFL) a shot at least. I’ll ride it out as long as I can.
What’s the biggest difference between living in Arkansas and living in C-U?
For one, the cold, and two, the flatness. The flatness just throws me off. I’m so used to mountains and hills and trees. It gets cold in Arkansas, but it doesn’t get as bad as it does here when it’s in the dead of winter. I love the trees and woods, so when I see cornfields driving down the roads here sometime, it hurts.
Was it difficult when offensive coordinator Paul Petrino left after the 2011 season?
Change is always a little different. I came in with him. He was a guy that liked me, and that’s kind of the reason why I came here. To see him go, you don’t know if the next coach is going to come in and not like you and you’ll be a fourth-string receiver off the bat. Thankfully, I persevered through that.
Has it been challenging not being the No. 1 receiver for a large chunk of your career?
It is frustrating sometimes because you always want to be the top receiver and have the most catches, but it doesn’t always work that way. I’m a realist, and I realize that. Sometimes you struggle by thinking you’re not producing as much as you should or you’re not doing your job. I always look back, and if God wants me these next four games to not catch another ball here, I’ve had a good career here. If these next four games I catch another 10 balls a game, then that’s awesome and I’ll appreciate it. The coaching change was probably the most challenging thing for me because I didn’t really know what was going to happen. Just the unknown.
What’s it been like having Bill Cubit as the offensive coordinator this year?
Awesome. What a cool guy. I always want to tell him this, but he reminds me so much of my uncle. I don’t get to see my uncle that much, but just the way he carries himself and his attitude. He’s a funny guy. Sometimes you don’t know if he’s playing with you or if he’s serious. He kind of keeps you on your toes. He’s a great guy. He’s a great leader, and he says the right things when they need to be said. That’s a guy you can play behind and you trust him. When he’s looking down at the play-call sheet, you know the next play is going to be the right play call.
Did you get a lot of extra phone calls and/or texts after your game at Penn State?
I did, and it was a little bit more than usual. Some people like to text you after you have a big game on ESPN that you haven’t heard from in a while. You see who your friends are after that one. More Facebook messages and Twitter stuff than anything just saying, “Congratulations,” or “Great job,” or “You played awesome.” I appreciated it.
Your significant other is OK if you answer this: Who’s your dream date?
Megan Fox is pretty darn hot. I’d have to go with her. I’m not a big guy into celebrities, but she always, for some reason, caught my eye.
A night on the town with Megan Fox or three touchdowns, 100-plus receiving yards and a win at Indiana?
I would definitely take option two in a heartbeat. She’s hot, but she’s not worth a win for this football team. We need it bad. These are desperate times. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We’re in a slump right now, so I’d take the win.