OC Locksley a Big Reason For Illini Success

Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley plays a vital role for the Illini football team. He calls the plays, organizes the entire offense, teaches and develops the quarterbacks, and finds the time to do some great recruiting. It is increasingly obvious Illinois has the right man for the job.

Through his guidance, Isiah "Juice" Williams has developed into a mature, confident leader whose quarterbacking skills are beginning to match his raw athleticism. Locksley's role with Williams is much more complex than just fundamentals and play calling.

The quarterback is often the one media and fans adopt for special treatment. He must be much more than just a good player. He must also be a leader on the team and an eloquent public spokesman. He must keep his grades up, study game film more than anyone else, all while keeping his nose clean and maintaining his cool under duress.

Coach Locksley's understanding of human nature has helped Williams immensely. As the coach works with Juice's inner man, the outer man has continued to grow and develop. Locksley's explanation for why he continues to call Williams by his true name of Isiah rather than his more familiar nickname shows a perception and understanding beyond the average coach.

"'Juice' is this person the Illini Nation has come to love, the household name that exudes confidence, the guy that is in front of the camera, the guy that always seems to have all the answers and all the confidence.

"'Isiah' is the guy who questions whether or not he is good enough to lead the team, questions whether or not he can carry the weight of the Chicago Public League on his shoulders. I think if we spend more time developing Isiah, we'll see more development in Juice.

"A lot of people look at Juice and think he is gonna be a savior. They put alot of undue pressure on him. He's come in and done everything we've asked him to do for the program. Some of the criticism has been a little unjust.

"He came in and played as a freshman. We probably did him a disservice throwing him into the fire, but what else were we gonna do? I think that it's benefitted him in the long run.

"To me, Juice is the guy you all love that can sit and hold court and come across as confident as a kid can be. Isiah is the true inner self of who he is, and he sometimes questions whether he is good enough. I think that we've continued to develop that part of him, and now you're starting to see that Isiah and Juice are starting to become the same person.

"So calling him Isiah was to take the pressure off, to develop true confidence and not just an image. Juice is the image, but Isiah is who he really is. I think Isiah and Juice are becoming the same person as he's grown up in our system, grown up dealing with you guys (media), grown up handling pressure that's put on him, and he's done it in a great way."

Locksley must also keep working with the backup quarterbacks, making sure they are ready to go should something happen to Williams. More than that, he must keep their confidence up so they won't be discouraged despite their temporary anonymity.

Backup Eddie McGee is talented enough to start for a number of teams. Having taken a redshirt, he will have at least one year to compete for a starting spot after Juice leaves. But keeping him happy while waiting his turn is also the job for a quarterback coach. That isn't always easy when the Illini fandom is aware of McGee's ability and would like to see more of him in the games.

"All our guys have progressed," compliments Locksley. "I'm looking forward to seeing how much time and effort Eddie has put into the season. Everybody loves the backup quarterback."

Locksley has elevated McGee to a confidence-boosting position in the depth chart.

"We've got 1A and 1B. I don't look at him as being necessarily a backup. Juice is the leader, it's his offense and his team. But as a coaching staff, we have no problem that if Juice is not getting the job done or is injured, we feel real good we have a guy like Eddie who can step up and not lose a beat.

"We don't have to change how we work our offense, how we call plays. He's still just a redshirt sophomore, so he's still got a lot of ball left."

Locksley wants to see a quarterback recruited with each year's class. That way, one person enrolls as another graduates. This would give him at least four quarterbacks on scholarship.

He is looking forward to coaching freshman Jacob Charest beginning this fall. And the Illini have a commitment from outstanding prospect Nathan Scheelhaase for this next year's entering class. With that combination, the Illini will finally have four quarterbacks together at the same time, providing continuity for the program.

And from all indications, they have a coach who is rapidly developing as someone who can coax their best from them. With good recruiting and good coaching, the future is bright.

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