Davis shows the way for Illinois' Wilson

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's impossible to overlook or ignore the similarities between Vontae Davis and Tavon Wilson.

Both men come from the nation's capital and attended high schools located just six miles apart. Both play cornerback. Both have similar frames as bigger corners -- Davis at 6-feet, 204 pounds; Wilson at 6-feet, 195 pounds.

Wilson might not be the physiological freak that Davis is, but at certain times, he could be mistaken for the former Illini star.

Toward the end of a recent practice at Memorial Stadium, Wilson earholed running back Mikel LeShoure, prompting a chorus of hollering from his fellow Illinois defenders. For a moment, the sophomore looked a lot like Davis, an explosive hitter who, unlike some cornerbacks, never shied away from contact.

"I wasn't trying to hit him too hard," Wilson said afterward. "He's a teammate."

Opposing ball-carriers won't be so lucky this fall, as Wilson helps fill the void left by Davis, a likely first-round pick in this weekend's NFL draft. After appearing in all 12 games las fall as a reserve corner, Wilson has been a bright spot this spring as he tries to fill Davis' starting spot in the secondary.

It would only be fitting if Wilson followed Davis, his mentor for two seasons at Illinois.

"When I visited [as a recruit], Vontae was my host," Wilson said. "He told me once I get here, he'd look out for me and make sure I learned the defense and stuff. We spent all our time together.

"He'd make me stay after practice to work on some stuff, watch film. He just gave me pointers."

Wilson still talks with Davis about three times a week. Though their conversations focus mainly on Davis' preparation for the NFL draft, Davis still keeps tabs on Wilson's progress through message boards and other sources.

"Vontae's one of those guys, he always wanted to help people," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "Vontae was instrumental in helping us recruit Tavon. They went to different high schools, but out there, they all know each other and know the history. Tavon's a guy who has come in and tried to model himself after Vontae."

Wilson (pronounced Tay-von) senses the opportunity at cornerback this spring, where several players are in the mix for starting spots, including senior Dere Hicks, Patrick Nixon-Youman, Supo Sanni and Travon Bellamy, a converted safety. Miami Thomas will join the mix this summer after being held out of contact this spring.

After recording 11 tackles last fall, Wilson has felt more confident and comfortable this spring, particularly in man-coverage. Illinois played a lot of zone last fall with Davis, but likely will go man-to-man more in 2009.

"He's a big corner, he's a 200-pounder, he likes contact," Zook said of Wilson. "He's a reactor, which is very, very important for corners. I'm proud the way he's progressed this offseason.

"He's got a chance to be a heck of a football player."

Just like Davis.

"We're similar type players," Wilson said. "Vontae, he's a little more explosive than me, but I'm still young, so I can get there."