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Vontae Davis, dead at 35, starred at University of Illinois before Pro Bowl NFL career

Former NFL star found dead in Florida home
Former NFL star found dead in Florida home 02:39

Before Vontae Davis became a Pro Bowl NFL cornerback, he starred for three seasons at the University of Illinois, playing a pivotal role in a dramatic turnaround for the Illini football program in the mid-2000s. 

Davis was found dead Monday morning in a home in Southwest Ranches, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. The cause of death was not immediately known. He was 35. 

MARLIN LEVISON * Assign. #00004213N October 9, 2008] - GENERAL INFORMATION: Gophers football vs. Illinois.  IN THIS PHOTO: Gophers running back DeLeon Eskridge eluded the tackle of Illinois' Vontae Davis.
Minnesota Gophers running back DeLeon Eskridge eluded the tackle of Illinois' Vontae Davis. Marlin Levison/Star Tribune via Getty Images

"Vontae Davis was a lock-down defender and one of the greatest cornerbacks in Illinois football history, playing a major role during one of the greatest seasons in school history when the Illini reached the 2008 Rose Bowl," said Dave Wischnowsky, a former reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune and WSCR 670 AM. 

Wischnowsky said that when Ron Zook took over at Illinois, he faced a major rebuild of the team's roster. Davis' commitment was a significant reason why the Illini were able to jump from just two wins in 2006 to nine wins, including a victory over No. 1 Ohio State, in 2007.

Davis was a three-year starter and a three-time All-Big Ten honoree, earning first-team recognition during his sophomore and junior seasons before entering the 2009 NFL Draft. He was selected a Playboy All-American in 2008. 

Vontae Davis (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Fighting Illini head football coach Bret Bielema said while he did not coach Davis, he did compete against him as an assistant coach in the NFL.   

Bielema said Davis was a "very loved" player at Illinois and spoke of Davis' "passion" and "intensity." 

"I just saw an incredibly talented player; checked all the boxes," Bielema said. "I knew he was going to be a great, not just college player, but in the NFL."

Davis committed to the Illini after a standout high school career at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. He selected Illinois over Maryland, Michigan State, and Virginia.

He was drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. He played three seasons in Miami and six for the Indianapolis Colts, including two Pro Bowl years in 2014 and 2015. 

He retired at halftime of the season's first game while playing for the Buffalo Bills in 2018. 

"Extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Vontae Davis," Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on X. "A great guy, teammate, player. My prayers to Vontae's family."

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