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Spring breakout player: Illinois Fighting Illini

With spring practice in the rear view, we're taking a look at one player on each Big Team who had a breakout spring and who looks ready to take on a bigger role when the football starts to matter this fall.

The series starts off with the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Spring breakout player: S Clayton Fejedelem

Fejedelem joined the Illini as a walk-on in 2013 after transferring in from St. Xavier, an NAIA school. He sat out that year under transfer rules.

He has gone from humble beginnings to perhaps the starting free safety for Illinois. He earned a scholarship late last year and made his first career start in the season finale against Northwestern, when he had 12 tackles.

Fejedelem continued that momentum over into the spring, as head coach Tim Beckman labeled him a "pleasant surprise."

"He did a great job late in the season last year of coming in when we had a couple injuries and making a lot of plays," Beckman told reporters last month. "He's an active safety, and he likes hitting people."

Illinois could use some more physical players on a defense that was the worst in the Big Ten last season, and the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior could help fill that role. With another spring breakout candidate, Caleb Day, also moving back to safety this spring and Taylor Barton playing well at strong safety, the Illini feel good about the back end of their defense.

"We've got probably more depth in the secondary that is proven than we've had in a while," Beckman said.