USA Today // Mike Granse

Illini 'playing the cards we're dealt' following another QB transfer

Illini speak, somewhat, on Jimmy Fitzgerald's decision to leave the program

CHAMPAIGN - Tuesday's conversation between the Illinois coaching staff and former quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald will remain private, at least from the Illinois coaches' perspective.

Both head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee met with Fitzgerald on Tuesday, but both will remain mum on the specifics of Fitzgerald's decision to transfer out of the program.

"It's a private conversation," Lovie Smith said. "Appreciate what Jimmy did for us. He put out a statement. That's what we're going with. We wish him nothing but the best. He was good while he was here with us."

Said McGee: "Conversations between players and coaches behind closed doors, I think they should stay there. That's the reason they're behind closed doors."

The Champaign Centennial grad and former three-star reccruit was highly respected by his teammates for his work ethic, leadership and intelligence. Many around the program thought he was one of the top competitors for the starting job in 2017 after Wes Lunt graduates.

"He's a great kid," McGee said. "One of my favorite kids. I'll see him around. He's a good kid. He'll be around with the guys." Fitzgerald is the second quarterback to transfer since Smith's arrival. True freshman Eli Peters transferred to Toledo this spring after just one semester with the team. McGee is looking for a more dual-threat quarterback with dynamic athleticism.

Illinois already has taken a commitment from Class of 2017 Marian Catholic quarterback Cam Thomas,who runs a 4.5 40-yard dash and has a solidly strong arm. They also are prioritizing 2018 Chicago Solorio quarterback Quincy Patterson, whom many compare to former Illini dual-threat quarterback Juice Williams.

The Illini also could be active on the transfer market to add competition in 2017.

"You can get different bodies, different skill sets," McGee said. "But if the guy can make everyone around him better, he's normally the guy who can produce more victories and produce more yards in a game. You can get guys who have all the characteristics. They're tall. They're long. They can throw. They can do all that, but they don't have anything inside them that motivates everybody else, they're not going to beat the guy who can motivate every guys on the squad. Those are the characteristics you look for."

In the short-term, Illinois is down to three scholarship quarterbacks: Lunt, redshirt sophomore Chayce Crouch and redshirt freshman Jeff George Jr. A fourth quarterback earned reps on Thursday. Illinois moved 6-foot-1 walk-on running back Camren Miller to quarterback, a position the true freshman played at Brother Rice in Chicago.

Is that enough quarterbacks on the roster?

"That's all we got, so yeah," McGee said. "You just end up playing the cards you dealt. You don't really start thinking about what you would like or if this is good or this is bad. You just play the cards you're dealt and make it work."


Illini Inquirer Top Stories