Danville native waiting on his call with Illini defense

Danville native waiting on his call with Illini defense

CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois coaching staff gave Julian Pearl a choice when he started his Illini career.

The Danville native had the opportunity to play on either line — either as an offensive tackle (the position he was initially recruited at) or a defensive end.

In the end, the choice was pretty simple. Pearl had his preference.

“I just always preferred defensive end to tackle,” the Illinois freshman said. “I would just rather chase the quarterback than protect him.”

Pearl played on both sides of the ball at Danville. He worked as a tight end for the Vikings’ offense while lining up on their defensive line, too. The latter is where he racked up 98 tackles during his senior season.

The first two weeks of training camp saw Pearl work alongside fellow freshman Ezekiel Holmes as third-string defensive linemen. At this point of his still-brief college career, Pearl is behind a slew of sophomores that got playing time in 2017 as true freshmen, including the likes of Bobby Roundtree, Jamal Woods and Owen Carney Jr.

“I’m just ready to be called on,” Pearl said. “Whenever they decided to put me in, I’m ready to be there. It’s an eye-opener. We really spend a whole day on football. It’s not for everybody, but it’s just making me realize I can do this and it’s where I want to be.”

Pearl’s fellow defensive linemen might still be young themselves — the only upperclassmen are a trio of defensive tackles — but he’s learning just as much from his contemporaries as he is from first-year defensive line coach Austin Clark and graduate assistant and former Illini Joe Fotu.

“They’ve kind of helped me learn you’ve got to want it,” Pearl said. “It’s a want — a constant want — and that makes you perform better. That’s one of the most important things I’ve taken away.”

Clark and Fotu are pushing Pearl hard, though. Spending an entire practice — an entire day — working solely at defensive end is new for the former multi-sport Danville athlete.

“It’s kind of weird for me to go from all those positions to just focusing on one and giving all my energy to one,” Pearl said. “(The coaches) having high energy, to know they care, is important. I just know I have to give my all to match their intensity.”

Pearl also changed his body during his summer on campus to better fit at his new position. He said he’s up to 265 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, and he’s added good weight.

“My muscle mass has gone up, and my body fat percentage has gone down,” he said. “If I just keep putting in the work, the games will come soon. Just to be here, I’m honored, but I’ve got to turn it up to the next level.”