CHAMPAIGN — At this time last year, the question facing Dominic Stampley fell along these lines: What will you bring to Illinois football?
Now, with a Division I season in the wide receiver’s back pocket, the query turns ever so slightly.
What did you bring to Illinois football?
“Speed. Speed,” Stampley said. “I always felt like that was my game, and I knew coming in that that’s what I was and I would never try to be anything else.”
The Centennial graduate isn’t alone in his self-assessment.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith mentioned Stampley earlier this week among the wideouts he expects to thrive this year in one-on-one matchups.
That belief, at least partially, is spurred by a well-rounded rushing attack — Reggie Corbin and a healthy Mike Epstein leading the way — making the Illinois offense harder to plan for.
But even when the Illini pass-catchers had a tough go of things in 2018, Stampley still made an impression.
Following Stampley’s career-best performance on Oct. 27 at Maryland, in which he converted an 84-yard touchdown among four receptions for 153 yards, then-Illinois quarterback AJ Bush Jr. offered a ringing endorsement.
“He just added a great explosion after the catch,” Bush said. “That’s something we really haven’t had all year.”
No longer is Stampley the new kid on the block out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior now is expected to expand upon his inaugural Illini statistics: 19 catches for 311 yards at a team-leading 16.4 yards per snatch.
“It was really a jump,” Stampley said of the transition from community college to Big Ten football. “The biggest part was more the mental than the physical. I had to learn a lot of different things, a lot of different coverages out there. ... So with me being here for Year 2, I feel like I’m ready.”
Stampley joined Illinois with three remaining years of eligibility.
When some guys ascend to a D-I squad, they express disbelief about the opportunity afforded them.
“That’s all I ever imagined,” he said. “I just wanted to come out, be around the guys, run out the tunnel and make some plays for the town.”
Smith acknowledged that the speed element Stampley offers is something he’s looking for at “all of our skill positions.”
“We know it’s not just about how fast a guy can run or how high he can jump, but that helps an awful lot,” Smith said. “A defensive player would like to play a slower (opponent), as a general rule. And the faster the guy, especially at the receiver position (the better).”
Of course, it’s hard to pin down exactly who brings the most speed to the Illini table.
Unless you’re Stampley.
“Now, quick 6,” he said, referencing his jersey number. “We know that.”
Once the 2019 campaign concludes, Stampley said he and some cohorts will “line it up and see who’s the fastest.”
Maybe it’s Stampley. Perhaps it’s Dalevon Campbell, Kyron Cumby or Josh Imatorbhebhe, other receivers whom Stampley said are challenging for the title.
Ultimately, the honor isn’t an end-all-be-all concern heading into 2019.
Stampley and his pals want to improve upon last season’s 4-8 record and get Illinois into a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
“One team, one dream,” as Stampley describes it.
But Stampley also harbors goals as the Illini’s lone returning competitor from a Champaign-based high school.
“I’ve got to be the voice for everyone here,” Stampley said. “It’s a big role. Not many people get to do this. ... I’ve got to keep going for all the younger youth and the kids that’s coming up behind me.”
Dominic Stampley had the most receiving yards in a game last season by an Illini with 153 at Maryland. A look at the best single-game totals by an Illini in program history:
NAME DATE OPP. REC. YARDS
A.J. Jenkins Oct. 1, 2011 vs. Northwestern 12 268
Steve Hull Nov. 9, 2013 at Indiana 9 224
David Williams Sept. 1, 1984 vs. Northwestern 11 208
Mikey Dudek Oct. 4, 2014 vs. Purdue 8 200
Mike Sherrod Nov. 15, 1980 at Indiana 8 191
David Williams Nov. 5, 1983 at Minnesota 11 188
Rex Smith Nov. 8, 1952 at Iowa 11 188
A.J. Jenkins Oct. 8, 2011 at Indiana 6 182
Arrelious Benn Oct. 11, 2008 vs. Minnesota 12 181
Walter Young Jan. 1, 2002 vs. LSU 6 178
Brandon Lloyd Sept. 1, 2001 at California 8 178