Eddie McGee is no slouch as a quarterback. He has the size, speed, arm strength and knowledge of the offense to replace starting quarterback Juice Williams at a moment's notice and do well. But when he saw the Illini losing games last year, his need to win convinced Illinois head coach Ron Zook to find a way to get him on the field.
The 6'-4", 210 athlete with great speed played a couple games at wide receiver before breaking his hand late in the season. Midway through spring ball, Eddie was asked to devote some practice time to receiver, and he complied without complaint.
"Whatever coach says. Whatever he tells me to do I'll do. If they want me to go out there as a receiver, that's what I'll do. Whatever I need to do to help the team."
It was in this role that media focused their questions of the redshirt junior. For instance, who does McGee see as the hardest hitting Illini defensive back?
"I don't want to disrespect nobody on the team, but I'm gonna go with Tavon (Wilson)."
Who is the best trash talker?
"The best trash talker has to go to Miami Thomas hands down."
Is the product of H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C. concerned about injuries to both himself and Williams, leaving Illinois with a redshirt freshman starting quarterback?
"It's a part of the game. It's in the back of the coaches' heads and in the back of the players' heads that it can happen. It's just something that you have to live and die with.< P>"I'm not going to be a full time receiver. You'll see me out there every so often. You just have to go 100%. You can't be worried about getting hurt, and you can't play the game scared. It is what it is."
McGee was making progress at quarterback this spring. New quarterback coach Kurt Beathard emphasized hitting the first receiver seen open, and McGee was responding well to the challenge. Switching back and forth between the two positions was difficult for him at times.
"It's kind of like Jekyll and Hyde, but whatever position I'm playing is what I'm focusing on at the time."
Fortunately, McGee claims playing receiver helps him as a quarterback.
"Being a receiver helps me know the timing and the routes when I'm a QB."
Illini quarterbacks had to adjust both to a new quarterback coach and a new offensive coordinator this spring, but McGee says the transition went well.
"It's really not that different than when we had Locks (Mike Locksley) because Locks was our quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. It's not really that different. The only difference is that we have a different OC. So I have to be in the head of Coach (Mike) Schultz. It's different than last year because I was in Locks' head both as a quarterbacks coach and as an offensive coordinator."
McGee has responded well to the new offensive concepts introduced by Schultz.
"I think we have a pretty good relationship. I think I have had a pretty good gist where his head is at, what he wants, how he wants us to play and what he likes to call. I think it's a good relationship."
McGee is the heir apparent at quarterback. But if he can help Illinois win by playing receiver, that's where he will be at times this fall.