Illinois quarterback Eddie McGee is one play away from being the starter. If Juice Williams needs a replacement, McGee is ready. In fact, he has made major strides since the spring. He seems more relaxed and confident on the field. His balls spiral better, and he is more precise with his throws. He notices that as well.
"Yeah, I am more accurate out there at times. I work on myself every day to get my poise under control, and that has helped me a little bit."
That poise has come with maturity. Now a fourth year player with two years of eligibility, McGee has taken on a leadership role with the team. This has made his work ethic and sense of responsibility increase exponentially.
"I'm not that 'Young Eddie' I was in the past. I've become more of a leader. Quarterback is a lifestyle, and I'm trying to live that lifestyle."
There is now no doubt McGee will be a fine starting quarterback at Illinois when his turn comes. He is studying more film and doing more to understand the total offense and everyone's role in it. He embraces his backup roll and sees it as motivation.
"The role becomes easier. Just knowing what my role is and being comfortable with it has helped. I stay motivated because football is the game I love to play. Just knowing that I never know when I'll play is motivation as well."
The Washington, D.C., native arrived at Illinois the same year as Williams. Fortunately, there are no problems between them that would make sitting in the quarterback meeting room difficult.
"Me and Juice are real close. We're with each other every day. We've got classes together. We're like brothers."
Both quarterbacks have had to adapt to a new offensive coordinator (Mike Schultz) and quarterback coach (Kurt Beathard) this year. But even those adjustments have gone smoothly.
"With Coach Schultz coming in, I've got to learn his terminology. But we still have the same offense. There are some little changes I had to pick up. Everything else is fine.
"There's not a lot of differences, just personality-wise. That's the biggest difference. Knowledge of the game is pretty much the same.
"There's a few different techniques that Coach Locks (Mike Locksley) taught us that since he left Coach Beathard has eliminated and taught us different. But he hasn't changed our mechanics or throwing motion. Just stuff on the run game and getting us to work on carrying out our fakes so we can suck people out. Stuff like that."
The Illini struggled in the red zone last year, something they are working hard to improve this season.
"We just practice more in the red zone. And we're working to have no turnovers. We have to score every time in the red zone, whether it's three points or seven. If we get three, then that's fine. But our mentality is we have to score in the red zone."
McGee is close with some of the other Illini players from the D.C. area, including receiver Arrelious Benn. That good chemistry between quarterback and receiver helps during games.
"Rejus [Benn] and I played against each other every year, and I knew him outside of football. The same was true with Vontae [Davis]. When Benn came out here, it was good for him to know someone else was from DC. We were roommates his freshman year, and I helped him out with the playbook and getting ready for games."
In an effort to get the 6'-4", 210 pound speedster with a strong competitive urge on the field, the Illini have used him at receiver in past years. He will gladly do it anytime asked, but quarterback is still his dominant position.
"Right now, I'm not practicing in those roles. I have no idea if I'll be doing that this year. I would definitely like to do it. That came about because at first Coach Locksley said I couldn't catch the ball, and I showed him that I could. I caught everything Juice threw. Finally, we sat down and talked about it a little more seriously and he gave me a shot."
Whether he plays quarterback or receiver, or even if he remains on the sidelines sending in play signals, McGee is really looking forward to seeing the Illini offense reach its full potential in 2009.
"We have so many weapons, from Juice, to (Jason) Ford, to (Daniel) Dufrene, all our running backs, all our receivers, the o-line. It's exciting to know we have that many weapons around us. We want to put up as much points as we can. Every time we have the ball we want to score.
"This is probably the most excited I've been since I've been here. We have very good talent, the best talent I've been around. I think we can do a lot this year."