McGee Now Ready If Needed After Solid Showing

Many people have heard of Juice Williams, and he has earned the publicity. But there is another quarterback in Juice's recruiting class who is a quality backup and who could some day be a star himself. Illini fans witnessed Eddie McGee's potential for themselves in the game with Missouri last Saturday.

Replacing Williams after an injury, McGee completed 17 of 31 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown while rushing for an additional 46 yards and a TD. He almost led the Illini back from a 24-point deficit to win at the end despite losing two fumbles and two interceptions.

Coach Ron Zook was not surprised by McGee's performance.

"We knew when we recruited him and Juice, we knew they were both good players. It's not surprising to see he had the game he had."

Offensive Coordinator and quarterback coach Mike Locksley showed confidence in Eddie from the start by not restricting his game plan for an untried quarterback.

"Other than the first couple of plays, to try to get his feet wet and settle him down by running the ball a little bit and not asking him to come in and throw the ball, that's probably the only limitation we put in. But after he got in there and got a couple snaps from center, we went right back to our game plan."

Locksley was rewarded when McGee showed poise and courage in battling Mizzou down to the wire and not letting his mistakes eat away at his confidence. And he had the presence of mind to look for alternate receivers when his first priority was covered.

"Our quarterback made some decent progressions and got the ball to the open guys," explains Locksley. That (the 45-yard pass to Rashard on the sideline) was his third progression, and he did a pretty good job of coming down to his third progression in Rashard Mendenhall. That was a good play for us."

To paraphrase politicians in his hometown of Washington, D. C., Eddie McGee is one heartbeat from being a starting quarterback. Eddie believes he is ready if needed this year, and he was prophetic in a recent interview.

"It's been awhile since I played, but I feel I am very confident in myself, so I am ready to step up and take the position if anything happened to Juice, God forbid."

McGee redshirted last year to preserve a year of eligibility. He is a strong-armed quarterback from H. D. Woodson high school, the same school that produced former star Illini running back Lonnie Perrin. He was ranked the second best player coming out of the District of Columbia his senior year, and he chose Illinois over Rutgers. He accounted for 2,890 passing yards and an additional 770 yards running the ball, accounting for 27 total touchdowns his senior season.

Eddie can see over defenses with his 6'-4", 200 pound frame. And he is a quality runner, appearing even faster than Juice Williams. He is just experience away from being a fine college signal caller.

Like most other college freshmen who must redshirt their first year, McGee found it tough to sit.

"Yes, it was hard. As a competitor, I want to be out on the field every play. It was just a learning experience last year. I learned a lot (watching Juice). The speed of the game is quicker. You have to watch tape and be very familiar with your opponent.

"Sitting out last year helped me improve my fundamentals, my drops and things like that. And I worked hard on timing with the receivers in the offseason. Last year, I came in weighing 189. Now, I have picked up some weight so I can take those hits."

Fans will enjoy watching McGee run the ball as his long strides cover ground quickly. He is modest about his running skill but seems to relish his opportunities.

"I run when I have to. The offense has options, so it helps me capitalize on my ability to run."

Eddie is no one-trick pony as he seems equally adept with all types of throws. And he has no preference as long as each pass is successful.

"The offense is so broad, I can't really narrow it down to favorites. I feel like I'm stable in all the routes that we have, so it just depends on the game plan."

Opponents will undoubtedly blitz McGee when he's in the game. It is like a rite of baptism to college ball. Teams want to apply pressure on a rookie quarterback to see if they can rattle him. Their goal is to take the rookie out of the game mentally to increase their odds of winning. Juice went through that last year, and Eddie will face it this year. What can he do to neutralize the pressure?

"Staying well-prepared with the game plan. Knowing a team is going to blitz, knowing you have options you can check out of to get your team in a better position. That is the key."

McGee speaks in glowing terms about the Illini's future.

"The team is very confident. We feel like we will come out with a 'W' because we came together. We had that one year to get our bumps and bruises, but now we're going to be cooking with gas. We're more of a team than ever. The bond between each player on the team is thick as thieves. We're very together."

Eddie McGee is working hard to perfect his game to the point he might have an NFL future. Some have compared him favorably with former Woodson and NFL star Byron Leftwich. But he is not placing all his eggs in one basket.

"I am studying communications. I want to branch off into media studies and hopefully stay in the field of football with magazines or TV."

One thing is certain. Eddie McGee makes life interesting for Juice Williams. He knows he must play his best or risk being replaced. Coach Locksley was asked if Juice is eager to get back on the field.

"I'm sure he is. The competitor that he is, I'm sure he saw some of what Eddie is capable of doing. We want competition at every position, and unfortunately he was unable to finish the game and obviously we can't have those, but if anything it put pressure on Juice to take care of his business and know we have a second quarterback that's capable."

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