Scheelhaase Adapting To Multiple Changes

The Fighting Illini football team has no set starters as it begins the Tim Beckman era. Regardless of past success on the field, every position is up for grabs until the first game of the fall. But it hasn't taken the new staff long to notice the natural leadership and other gifts possessed by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman has already singled out Nathan Scheelhaase for his leadership. In turn, Scheelhaase seems like an ideal source for understanding the new coaching staff and other changes being implemented in the program.

"Obviously there's some changes and different things going on. I think our guys have all enjoyed getting around Coach Beckman, seeing what he's like and getting used to the way he runs the show.

"With practice, the biggest difference is that we are real up-tempo, real fast and moving around. He's not a guy who likes you to stand around too much. So we are all over the place, it seems like."

The starting quarterback the past two years, Scheelhaase nonetheless must prove himself all over again.

"That's something you expect when you have new coaches coming in. I went through it two springs ago when we had a new offensive staff come in.

"This is our coaches' first time to get out of the field and work with us, so the position is up for grabs. You just have to stay in the playbook and get the work in. Fix the mistakes when you make them and keep moving on."

The offense will be new, Scheelhaase's third since arriving at Illinois. So far, he offers a positive impression.

"I like it. It's up-tempo, it's moving around and getting fast guys in space. That's what we really want to focus on, using the whole field, getting guys one-on-one and making people miss."

Chris Beatty is his third quarterback coach. The two seem to be hitting it off well.

"I like Coach Beatty. It's been fun working with him. He has been at some premier places and has had offenses that have done real well. Just getting a chance to work with him and learn from him is something I'm going to take full advantage of. The more we get around him, the more we'll learn, the more we'll know what he's like not only on the football field but off the field."

Scheelhaase also speaks in glowing terms about new offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales.

"Coach Gonzales is cool. His resume speaks for itself, coming from LSU last year, the number one team in the country for the majority of the year. He brings an intensity about him that we all have a great deal of respect for.

"I look forward to working with him and learning from his knowledge. Coach Beatty and Coach González will bring in new stuff that will make us a better football team."

New terminology, new hand signals and new schemes require intense study, especially at the quarterback position. It gets easier each time, but Scheelhaase and the other quarterbacks are still in learning mode.

"Now the biggest focus that we all have is just learning this stuff. When you have to learn a new system, you have to take time to learn it. You can't just learn it all the first day. It's going to take time in the playbook, time with film and on the field learning from our coaches."

Fortunately, each time gets easier since many of the basics are the same regardless of the offensive style.

"Last year was my second time in the offense. But there are a lot of similarities if you go back two springs ago. New stuff coming in and having to learn on the run, trying to take coaching on the run. So that's probably pretty similar.

"There's a whole lot you've got to learn. I think the part I like better now is that I have more experience under my belt. I remember two years ago when I was trying to learn offense, I felt like I was looking at everything and almost over-coaching myself on things that really didn't matter, didn't make a difference.

"This year, I've been through two seasons. I know the important things, I know the keys to different coverages, where to go on a blitz. There are certain football things that you pick up along the way. I feel I've picked up a lot of those, which has made it a little bit easier transition."

Scheelhaase continues to work on his weaknesses.

"There was a lot I needed to work on this off-season. I needed to get my body back right and gain the weight I needed back. And I've been working on throwing, timing with the receivers. Our whole offense wasn't in this off-season, so there was only so many routes with receivers you could run. But it was nice to get with those guys."

This is perhaps the best time to probe into Scheelhaase's health needs, when there are still many months before the next game day. He has survived two seasons without a major injury, so most assume he is 100% for each game. That isn't accurate, but since he raised the issue...

"Surviving is the hardest part. It's funny to play with you guys (media) week to week. Obviously, I'm always going to say I'm healthy, and for the most part I usually feel pretty good. I might not feel good that day, but I know by Saturday I'll be feeling all right.

"But there's a lot that you go through as a quarterback. You take some shots that you don't always see coming. Everyone likes to say I play a little bit reckless out there, and I take more hits than most quarterbacks. That's my style.

"It might require a few more sessions in the cold tub, but I'm willing to put in the work. I've got two years in the books already, and I've got two years left. I figure if I'm barely able to walk by the time I leave here, it's about right."

Scheelhaase is too stubborn to admit a health concern, let alone remove himself from a game for anything less than a concussion or major injury.

"I'm definitely not gonna be one to come out of the game for injury. Michigan State my freshman year and Penn State last year I came out, but those were head things. If I'm dizzy and can't get the play going, it's probably a good time to come out.

"But besides that, I'm pretty confident things will heal up. I've got a strong enough body where I could take on as many hits as possible."

That may be, but depth at the position helps provide the Illini security should an accident occur.


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