HE CAME TO ILLINOIS CARRYING HIGH EXPECTATIONS, FOLLOWING A STINT at Florida that didn't work out as well as he had envisioned. And now he has one more season to get things done in Champaign. ¶ Ron Zook? No, Illini wide receiver Jarred Fayson. ¶ "I have one chance. It falls on me to produce the numbers I think I should be putting up," says Fayson, who is entering his senior season. "Nobody has higher expectations for me than the coaches do or than I do myself."
He's had a frustrating career. Fayson originally signed with the Gators, a five-star recruit in Florida's highly acclaimed 2006 class, which included Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow. After two seasons—and just one reception—in Gainesville, Fayson transferred to Illinois in search of more playing time.
After sitting out the 2008 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Fayson's junior year with the Illini was plagued by nagging injuries and inconsistency; he finished with just 16 catches for 218 yards and only one touchdown—not what Illinois was hoping for from its high-profile transfer. And the numbers didn't come close to Fayson's expectations, either. "I was average," he says flatly.
"He's had so many little injuries since he's been here that have kept him from excelling the way you'd like to see him excel," Zook says.
A healthy Fayson should have opportunities to make an impact in 2010. Last year's No. 1 receiver, Arrelious Benn, has departed for the NFL. Fayson, junior A.J. Jenkins and converted quarterback Eddie McGee are the Fighting Illini's top returning receiving options. And in new coordinator Paul Petrino's offense, Illinois is desperately seeking a consistent playmaker to emerge at receiver. Can Fayson be that guy?
"I'm fit for the job. I'm definitely capable of getting it done," Fayson says. "But I need to prove that I can be that guy. I need to get back to the really nasty Jarred Fayson—making people miss, getting upfield, doing all those little things. I want to play faster. When it comes to third-down conversions, I need to be the guy who gets it done in practice. Do it over and over. Doing all the things that matter on a daily basis, so when it gets down to the games, they know whose number to call."
Petrino has brought reasons for optimism and excitement to Champaign. His offenses have been prolific in each of his two previous collegiate stops. Louisville averaged 41.1 points from 2003 to '06 under Petrino and finished in the top 10 in total offense for four consecutive seasons. Last season at Arkansas (following a stint with the NFL's Falcons), Petrino helped the Razorbacks put up 37 points and 439.3 yards per game.
His is an attack that stresses the importance of playing fast, running precise routes and gaining yards after the catch. Petrino demands attention to detail. It's a system in which Fayson feels he should shine.
"Jarred knows the level he can play at. He knows he can live up to the goals he's set," says Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, a redshirt freshman with whom Fayson says he has developed a strong connection. "We can all see it; we know the type of player he's capable of being. He wants to show everyone what he can do."