Isiah Williams and Chris James -- known to everyone as Juice and CJ -- have played football together since junior high. So when both Chicago natives signed with Illinois last February, it only made sense they would room together the following fall. Four games into the season, Williams won the role of Illinois' starting quarterback. By the time November rolled around, James had joined him at the top of the depth chart, starting at receiver. Now Illinois is gearing up for the arrival of what is considered one of the top recruiting classes in the NCAA -- and Juice and CJ are getting ready for their sophomore season.
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Juice and CJ say sharing a small living space hasn't affected their friendship. "Most people being roommates, you anticipate some kind of argument," Juice says. "We've known each other since sixth grade, we've never had an argument." There's one debate, however, that has raged since the two faced off in a junior high football game. "We were playing them in eighth grade and at halftime the score was 13-13, then we ended up beating them 48-13," CJ says. "He said we had high schoolers on our team." "At halftime they went and got some seniors in high school," Juice says. "Those were not little boys. They were way too big." "We crushed them," CJ says. "He's mad because we crushed them."
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CJ's closet door is decorated with photos of family, graduation and prom. He says the pictures -- especially ones of his younger twin sisters -- were among the few things he wouldn't have made it in college without. "I just need my family," CJ says. "That's all I need."
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Juice's closet is so packed with pairs of shoes, he even stores some in CJ's closet. His favorite design is the Air Jordan VII. He insists it's a complete coincidence that No. 7 is also his jersey number.
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Juice and CJ stock their refrigerator irregularly, which accounts for its sparse contents. When they do go to "Late Night," where Illinois students stock up on groceries using their meal plans, they usually fill the fridge with drinks.
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One of Juice's favorite Late Night items is Honey Buns, which he buys by the box-full. CJ says his roommate is constantly noshing on the pastries -- and leaving the wrappers all over the room. "He had like 30 Honey Buns, and they were gone in four days," CJ says. "No," Juice says in his own defense. "It was like a week."
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Juice and CJ debunked their beds, but lofted one to maximize space in their room. Juice sleeps on the bottom with his head tucked under CJ's bed, a set up that works well -- until he sleeps in and almost misses morning weight lifting with strength coach Lou Hernandez. "You know Coach Lou, I'm scared of Coach Lou if I'm running late," Juice says. "I looked at my alarm too fast one morning; thought it said 7:15 when it was actually 6:15. I looked at it and just shot up like, DOO! I hit my head so hard."
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Teammate Vontae Davis watches Jackass Number Two on CJ's computer. Vontae, a starting cornerback for the Illini, is one of several football players living in the same dorm. "Everybody on the team stays by a bathroom," Juice says. "I don't know why that is, but I noticed that."
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CJ says the key to getting along as friends, teammates and roommates is not keeping score off the football field. "We share everything really," CJ says, shown lounging against his bed. "It's not like if you eat something I bought you owe me. It's like, if I get it you can have it."
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Think it's hard keeping track of your cell phone? Try having three. Juice keeps one for regular use, one because of its walkie-talkie feature and one with free incoming calls for long conversations.
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Ah, the life of a big-time athlete. Williams gets fan mail at his home address, his dorm, and the Illinois athletic department. He says he always tries to respond to requests for autographs. "I usually get one or two letters a day, so I collect them, then every two weeks I sign them all and send them all back," he says.
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The wall above the pair's desks is lined with newspaper clipping Juice saved from the season. "I originally saved them for my mom," Juice says, "but I forgot to give them to her so I just hung them up there."
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Illini fans have taken notice of Juice's big head, which is only amplified by the extra-large helmet he wears. Juice buys size 8 baseball caps, but says he's trying to get out of the habit of wearing hats. "That's 'cause they don't make his size," CJ teases.
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Every dorm room and most academic offices at Illinois have posted reminders to save energy by turning off the "juice." Coincidence? You decide.
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