Reilly O'Toole came to Illinois after winning back-to-back state championships. He proceeded to play well enough to earn playing time as a true freshman behind starter Nathan Scheelhaase. The experience was essential to his progress. He feels almost like a veteran now.
"I think that helped me. I feel like I'm older than just a freshman. I think I'll be better next year knowing I've having had some experience.
"The upperclassmen have seen me play and done some things fairly well. I think it's good that I did get some playing time, and hopefully the upperclassmen will believe in me."
He could feel his confidence increasing with each game.
"Last year, I got more experience as the season went on. From the first game getting my helmet knocked off to getting Player Of The Game against Ohio State when I was making some plays and moving the ball around."
Learning a new offense has taken time, but each day of spring ball aided the process.
"A lot of our offense is the same from last year, which is kind of nice. So it's not as frustrating, but at the same time I'm still making some mistakes. When I see it on film, I ask why I picked that up or whatever. I'm trying to get my work in, trying to get it down."
O'Toole actually enjoys the changes taking place with the offense.
"I love it. Coach (Tim) Beckman brings a great energy level out there. He's a very exciting guy and easy to play for. Coach Beatty (Chris, quarterback coach) is really easy to talk to and relate to. I think we're in a great situation with coaches, and everyone loves them."
He is already working with his second quarterback coach in two semesters on campus. But there are benefits to having more than one.
"It helps to understand how different people teach. Coach Beatty and Coach (Jeff) Brohm are pretty similar, laid-back guys who are fun and enjoyable to go to meetings with. They're both great coaches, calm guys and really cool guys."
He finds it easier to learn the playbook now despite the changes.
"The offense is different now, we're in a lot of shotgun. But I think last year, my first year studying the playbook, helped me out a lot. Now I know how to study a playbook.
"So I can pick up plays faster than I did last year. Obviously I can get a lot better, but I think I improved each practice, which is good. Hopefully I'm taking steps."
Finding synchronicity with the receiver corps may take a little longer due to the increased options for receiver routes.
"The receivers and I have to be on the same page. It's the same with the previous offense. I think we do a little bit more reading now, but we were doing it last year. Hopefully they're adjusting well; they're doing well in practice. It hasn't really been that much of a difference."
There is one thing O'Toole wants to improve above all other aspects of his game.
"Leadership, vocal leadership ability. In high school, I was used to leading by example. I was vocal every once in awhile, but now I'm trying to do it more often. I didn't lead too much in high school, so I've got to catch up a little bit.
"I've gotten stronger. And just my knowledge, I think I understand everything a little bit better now. Thanks to Coach Beatty and Coach Brohm, I think I've improved my knowledge of the game."
He plans improvement in other aspects of his game as well.
"I want to continue to get bigger and faster, obviously get the plays down, and work on my release to get it out faster. Once you get into the Big Ten, a split second means everything."
"It was fun to touch bases with the fans and be a regular student once in a while. Orange Krush is great. It's fun to go to the games and cheer. It's enjoyable."