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Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette

Marquez Beason on crutches during Illinois football training camp at Campus Rec Fields in Urbana on Thursday, August 15, 2019

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URBANA — Marquez Beason kept up his vigil from the sidelines Monday morning at Campus Rec Fields. Brace on his left knee. Leaning on crutches. That will be the freshman cornerback’s vantage point the rest of Illinois football training camp and into the 2019 season, as Illini coach Lovie Smith announced Monday that Beason would have season-ending knee surgery.

“Unfortunate,” Smith said. “He was one of the highlights of the fall practices early on. He eventually will play four years for us and will be a great player.”

Beason injured his right knee a week ago during a 1-on-1 drill between the Illinois defensive backs and wide receivers. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback out of Dallas was carted off the field and was in the brace and on crutches by the end of that same practice.

“He’s handling it about as well as he can,” Smith said. “First off, disappointed, but this is reality. This is life. He had an opportunity to see, ‘You’re a freshman coming in, do I belong?.’ Of course he knows he belongs. He has stayed into the game just like he’ll be coming back out (Tuesday). He’ll have surgery, and he’ll come back as strong as ever.”

Beason has posted on social media a few times since his injury, including a lengthy Instagram post Thursday whose tone seemed to indicate what Smith confirmed early Monday afternoon.

Beason’s tweets after the news of his season-ending injury broke were simple and to the point.

“My brothers got my back!!!” read one post.

“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,” read another.

Beason’s season-ending injury, of course, strains an already thin position group. Illinois’ cornerback depth took its first hit this offseason when first Cameron Watkins and then Ron Hardge transferred. That left the Illini with 10 cornerbacks on the roster, with three walk-ons among that group.

Illinois is down to six healthy cornerbacks — including two walk-ons — after Beason’s injury. The Illini were already practicing without Dylan Watt, Joseph Thompson and Christian Bobak before Beason joined the injured list.

“Other guys will have to step up,” Smith said, specifically mentioning Nick Walker and Devon Witherspoon. The latter didn’t commit to Illinois until July 29 and joined the team after training camp was already underway.

“Guys that are in a backup role right now will get an opportunity to get more reps,” Smith continued.

Illinois could bolster its depth at cornerback by moving safety Tony Adams back to the position where he started four games the past two seasons, but he already has a starting role at free safety. Smith also discussed last week the idea of moving an offensive player to cornerback.

For now?

“We’re going to go with these guys we have right now,” Smith said. “We’re constantly looking at that a little bit, but nothing we can talk about right now.”

News-Gazette

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).