Bob Asmussen | Johnny on the spot. Which works well for the Illini star.

Apr. 17—CHAMPAIGN — It was full-go Johnny Newton on Tuesday. Long overdue.

The Illinois All-American defensive tackle had his pro day workout at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility.

The 6-foot-2, 304-pound defensive stalwart participated in position-specific drills, giving the scouts on hand a look at the skill set that made him a college star. There were 21 NFL teams represented on Tuesday to watch Newton work out.

"It felt good to be out there," Newton said. "I've been watching since the combine, waiting for my time to come. It finally came."

After undergoing offseason foot surgery, Newton has only been cleared for football activities the past few weeks.

Did he meet his own expectations?

"For sure," Newton said. "To do what I did, I was really impressed with myself."

He wanted to show he can move.

Mission accomplished.

"A lot of teams had doubts," he said. "My lateral movement, I wanted to display that (Tuesday)."

He attended to the NFL combine at Indianapolis in the late February and wasn't able to participate in the workouts. Other defensive tackle prospects were able to show their stuff.

Frustrating? You betcha.

Without the physical work being possible before recent weeks, his draft prep involved mostly team interviews.

"I can only talk for so long," Newton said. "My lips were starting to get tired. I was waiting for my legs to do all the work."

Positive vibe

The first round of the draft is April 25 in Detroit. Newton is hoping to give Illinois a streak of first-rounders. Defensive back Devon Witherspoon went No. 5 overall in 2023 to Seattle. He starred as a rookie.

Newton watched the 2023 draft at the Smith Center.

"I thought he was going to go one pick later," Newton said. "Seattle was my favorite team growing up."

Did he think "That could be me in a year?"

"That never crossed my mind," Newton said.

Newton is projected as a first-rounder on many mock drafts.

"I feel pretty good," Newton said. "You never know until you know. The feedback I've been getting is always something good. I'm just ready to see where I land."

Why should he be a first rounder?

"It's not a lot of guys that play at the intensity, the speed that I play," he said. "The domination I bring to the game, I feel like that's rare in college football."

He doesn't care who picks him. There is no dream team.

"As long as I'm able to play football, I believe that's all that matters," Newton said. "It doesn't matter the scheme. I feel like I dominated in a 3-4 scheme, so 4-3, 3-4, I feel like I can be great."

He certainly doesn't lack confidence, which is vital for a top prospect.

It will all become real to Newton when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell goes to the microphone and calls his name.

"I still can't wrap my mind around it," Newton said.

Planning ahead

The first round of the draft is April 25, with the second and third rounds on April 26 and rounds four to seven on April 27.

Newton is not going to Detroit, though there was discussion about being on hand. Witherspoon attended the 2023 draft in Kansas City. Mo.

"I just realized I wanted my family to be around me," Newton said. "You only get 10 tickets. That's not enough for anybody. Just being real, I wanted my coaches to come see me. I've got four brothers, two parents. It was just not going to work at all."

Newton, his family and friends will gather in Orlando for the draft, about 85 miles from his hometown of Tampa.

"Got a little spot out there," Newton said. "I want my family to be around me. Definitely the ones I grew up with, stayed with, the ones who have been there with me throughout the process."

He won't be the only Illinois player picked in late April. Many of his teammates will be waiting for a call, including longtime defensive tackle cohort Keith Randolph Jr. They reconnected this week.

"The majority of the boys, we've been here since Lovie (Smith)," Newton said. "I'm happy for everybody's success."

Looking back

Newton was recruited to Illinois by former coach Smith and thrived with Bret Bielema in charge.

Newton didn't look to transfer after Smith was fired.

"I love my decision," Newton said. "I was always taught finish what I start."

He is thankful for his time in the program.

"They took me in," Newton said. "It means a lot to me. I met a lot of great people here. Some of my brothers. My best friend. I love the city of Champaign."

As an All-American, Newton, who turns 22 in late August, gained a plaque and a banner at the football complex after he compiled 52 total tackles, including 81/2 for loss, and added 71/2 sacks in 2023 as a junior for the Illini, who finished with a 5-7 record.

"It's crazy," he said. "Just a part of my legacy being left here. I'm just happy that I stamped myself as one of the best to play for Illinois football."