McGee More Ready Than Ever if Needed

There is no more popular position on a football team than backup quarterback. As the Illini found out last season, fans clamored for Eddie McGee when Juice Williams struggled. With a year's experience under his belt, Eddie is now ready to perform at a higher level when called upon.

The redshirt sophomore from Washington, D. C. (H. D. Woodson) had some memorable moments last year. In total, he passed for 444 yards and two touchdowns with a 52.7% completion percentage. And he gained 153 yards with his outstanding speed.

He almost led Illinois to a come-from-behind upset of Missouri except for his four turnovers. He is much better prepared should he need to play against Mizzou this year.

"Just a lot more experience. I'm in tune with everything that's going on. The protections, the hots, where the receivers are gonna be, I have a lot more experience.

"Knowing I'm just one play away, lets me know I've gotta be that much more in tune with what's gonna happen with my assignments. It feels real good. I'm more comfortable going into Missouri."

A backup's job is complicated. Like a pinch hitter in baseball, he must be ready to play at a moment's notice whether he ends up playing or not.

"I'm just one play away, so I've gotta be just as ready as Juice is. Coach Zook has told me that backup quarterback is the hardest position on the field because you've gotta be just as ready as the starter. I've gotta be on my toes. Motivation isn't hard. I always want to be a competitor and to be the best. The difficulty is not knowing when you're gonna get in."

It is also difficult in practice since Juice Williams works with the first unit, usually against reserves, while McGee must lead a reserve offense against the Illini's outstanding defense.

"Yeah, it was a good feeling being with the starters. It was a little better pocket. Our first d-line is the best in the country, so the older guys let the younger guys know what they're doing.

"I pretty much have a good grasp of the offense, but being out there with the 1's is a better feeling. It gave me a chance to work on timing with the receivers and getting comfortable with the o-line."

Eddie also found it easier to locate receivers. He is excited about them.

"We've got a sick receiver corps. Sick. We have Duvie out there, Jeff when he gets back, Fayson when he gets back next year. There's a lot of depth, speed and talent. I can't ask for any better."

The 6'-4" athlete has always been slender, but he is showing a definite increase in muscle mass lately.

"I gained about 7 pounds of muscle since spring. I'm not a fat guy. I think I was like 185 when I got here. Boney. Now, I'm up to about 205, 207."

Eddie dislikes wearing a red shirt in practice to prevent being tackled. He likes to make plays with his feet and can't do that when officials stop play early.

"Yeah, I don't like to scrimmage unless they can tackle me. If I'm running, I don't feel like they can catch me. I get kind of frustrated when they blow the whistle because I know I could have made a play."

Some quarterbacks react fearfully in games when everything is live since they are can no longer pretend invincibility. This is not a problem for McGee.

"Coach Locks lets us know in practice we won't be tackled, but we will be in a game. In practice, we're supposed to act just like it's in a game. You know, throw the ball away or make a play with our feet.

"So in a game, when it comes time to really be tackled, it's gonna be just like practice. I'm gonna be ready and know what I have to do with the ball whatever the situation is. It gets easier with more maturity."

Eddie McGee is a quarterback and doesn't want to try other positions to see the field. Since Juice Williams is just a junior, McGee must continue to wait his opportunity. At the least, he will have one season after Williams graduates.

But if Williams plays the 2008 season like he has in practice, perhaps McGee will have even more than one year to compete for a starting job. The thought brought a smile to his face and a twinkle to his eye as he said simply, "God's plan."

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