Illinois coaches were noncommittal about their plans to use either of their freshman quarterbacks Miles Osei and Chandler Whitmer this year. That is, until Eddie McGee went out with a badly sprained ankle. At that point, the Illini needed to give a backup experience. It was Osei.
How did the youngster develop so rapidly?
"I never envisioned being a backup. I just wanted to do the best at preparing myself this summer and just do whatever the coaches want me to. I've been taking mental reps in case my number got called. So I was prepared to redshirt or not to redshirt.
"Coach never really said anything about playing. He's just always said to be ready, so I've just been making sure I was ready in case anything happened and to prepare myself."
How did it feel to enter the SIU game in the fourth quarter?
"It was really cool being out there instead of on the sidelines. Just working hard and getting the opportunity to get out there and play. It was awesome to see how people move live."
That first opportunity is always traumatic for a newcomer. He admits to nervousness.
"For sure. Everyone was just telling me to calm down. Going out there I was kind of nervous, but once I called the play and everything it was just like practice almost. Going through everything I was supposed to do and executing."
It wasn't his finest hour as he missed both on a lateral pass and downfield pass. But that experience will help him down the road.
"I felt a little anxious and excited to be out there so when I threw it was a little wild. I felt like I knew play-wise what to do with execution. I think we all prepared very well for it. After play one I got over it."
He and Whitmer were close the whole fall. Whitmer is a quality quarterback also, but Osei got the nod at this time. He believes the duel between them helped both.
"I think it's been really good, for the team especially. We're making each other better by competing every week and not being sure who would play. I think it's been a healthy competition."
Quarterback coach Jeff Brohm explained why Osei was chosen as the backup to Nathan Scheelhaase.
"I think Miles is a young quarterback with a lot of ability, a lot of potential. When we had him in summer scrimmages, he found ways to make plays. He's one of those guys that, when you turned on the lights and it became a game situation, he stepped up his play. That was very encouraging to see, and hopefully he can continue to do that."
Whitmer had the benefit of spring ball, but Osei picked up the offense quickly.
"He's worked extremely hard," Brohm relates. "He was here all summer, he's put in all the extra time to pick things up. It's still a learning process for him."
The 5'-11", 195 pounder has the quickness to scramble into open areas for passing or running. That and a strong, accurate arm make him a promising weapon.
"He's an excellent athlete. He can run, he can make plays with his feet. He has a good arm. It's just a matter of learning the drop-back system and throwing from the pocket."
Osei did much of his damage in high school on the run. He must learn to ignore a pass rush and fire accurately under duress according to Brohm.
"Make reads and decisions when you've got guys coming at you and are in your face. For young quarterbacks, especially guys that are not extremely tall, they have to really learn and study and work on making throws with people in their face. He hasn't thrown from the pocket a lot. He hasn't thrown with a lot of big guys coming at him. Those are things that just take awhile to learn.
"You've got to be thrown into the fire in practices and scrimmages, and even some in games to get that down. He finally learns to block all that out and begins to make all the throws he would make in scrimmages or 7 on 7."
Illinois already had Whitmer committed when it became apparent another quarterback was needed for depth purposes. Osei had committed to Northern Illinois but was amenable when Illini coaches came calling. Being one of two quarterbacks in the same class was of minimal concern.
"I just wanted an opportunity. Illinois is my home town. Going to a big school, I just thought it was good academically. Football-wise it's big-time. I just wanted to work hard and learn as much as possible in the summer and see what happened."
Osei has career plans beyond football, and that contributed to his decision.
"I'm studying psychology. I want to be a high school counselor. Psychology is a great field in this university. I just thought it would be a better opportunity for me."
Is the NIU game more meaningful to him than most?
"Every game is a big game. It's just another game to me. I like Northern Illinois, but I'm an Illinois guy now."
Now that Osei can't redshirt, head coach Ron Zook says he plans to take advantage of the situation.
"We got Miles out there. We would have put Miles in if there'd been time last week as well. When we get an opportunity to play him, that's good experience. So now his shirt's off, so we'll try to play him as much as we can this year."