Jacob Charest is primarily a dropback passer. Illinois head coach Ron Zook hopes Charest will cause headaches for opponents by forcing them to prepare for him as well as option running Juice Williams. The hope is they can compliment one another. Williams' situation was discussed in part one, and now Charest gets his due.
As a redshirt freshman lodged behind two experienced upperclassmen returnees, Charest had minimal practice reps after Camp Rantoul ended. But when both Williams and Eddie McGee faltered, Charest was given his baptism of fire against Purdue.
After completing 4 of 8 passes and impressing with his composure and ability, he is now sharing practice reps with Williams and will definitely see time against Michigan.
In the spring, Charest said he would be nervous with his first snap in a college game. In actuality, it was different than expected.
"I wasn't quite as nervous as I thought I would be. Actually, I was a lot more excited. There was a lot of adrenalin. It was a little nerve-wracking, but the first play really wasn't too bad."
The game experience made him wish to work even harder than before.
"Yeah. It definitely cleared all doubts I had about whether I could do it. I had never been in a college game. But last week showed me I can make plays and can compete with these guys."
Charest was relaxed in the pocket, something Williams and McGee have struggled doing. He was able to find open receivers despite a strong rush.
"I've never really been concerned about the rush. If you get hit, you get hit. If not, I'd definitely like to stay in the pocket as long as I can."
It warmed Illini fans' hearts to see Charest hit the tight ends. In fact, he completed three passes to two different tight ends on one drive. Part of that was the package of plays prepared for him.
"Yeah, it was. We've decided we're gonna start working with the tight ends a little bit. I don't really care if its a tight end or receiver, I just want to throw the ball to whoever is open."
Charest isn't as good a runner as the other quarterbacks, so the option is not his forte. He stumbled on his one effort against Purdue, perhaps trying too hard to get to the hole quickly.
"The option game is definitely something I've got to work on. But its just a matter of getting reps reading defenses. I'm not as fast as Eddie or Juice, but if I have to I can get five or six yards at a time. Of course, I look slow compared to everybody like Juice and Eddie. But I'm not that slow."
After a few weeks of inactivity, Charest is experiencing arm soreness from throwing more passes in practice. It will take awhile to get it back in shape.
"My arm is exhausted. I need to put some ice on it right now. After the game on Saturday is when I realized how sore it was. All week I was trying to push it aside and say it's not sore. Then I come in on Saturday and realize it's real sore."
Of course, arm soreness will be the least of his worries once he gets hit a few times in a game. Williams can hardly walk for a day or two after a hard-hitting game.
"Yeah. Juice comes in and is ridiculously sore, especially in games when he has to run the ball alot."
Charest will not be asked to do more than he's capable. It will take awhile for him to absorb the whole offense and be able to execute efficiently. He has modest goals for the Michigan game.
"I just want to have a successful game and get a number of completions. We'd love to get a win obviously. As for playing time, whenever they tell me to go in, I'll go in."
Regardless of how much time he gets this year, every opportunity is a chance to get a head start for next year after Williams graduates.
"It's definitely an audition for next year, but everything's really an audition. Every practice, you've got to come out and perform. If you've had a bad practice, it's gonna hurt you some. And a good practice is gonna boost you a little bit. But this year definitely lets the coaches see how you're gonna react next year. This is definitely a chance to put my foot in the door for next year."
The 6'-3", 225 pounder says Williams has been a big help to him despite their competition for playing time.
"It's a good relationship. We joke around alot. He's a fun guy to be around. We were just talking about how weird it's gonna be next year when he's not here. He's a good guy. It's tough, but he tells me every day it gets a lot easier with experience and learning some things.
"The Purdue game gave me a little more confidence, just letting me see the game, letting me see how fast it is. It's still gonna take awhile to pick everything up. But he's definitely been helping me along."
Center Eric Block works with the quarterbacks daily, so he is a good source of information about Charest.
"Jake has a real calm demeanor," Block attests. "Kind of like a quiet confidence. He's got a cool hand. It's a pleasure having him in the huddle.
"He stays calm in the pocket, he's calm in the huddle, and he's pretty even-keeled. That's what you want in a quarterback. He shows good leadership skills and takes control of the huddle. He's been great the past couple of weeks."
Zook is also impressed with the North Carolina youngster.
"I was very pleased with the way Jacob went in there. It's one thing going into a game plan knowing you're going to play in the beginning of the year when everybody's optimistic, and another going into a game under those kinds of circumstances and pressure and needing to win.
"I was very impressed with him. I thought he did a good job. I will continue to use him. I think he brings a different animal to the table, and I think he can give us some help.
"Jacob threw for almost 8,000 yards in high school. He's a good quarterback. There was no question in our minds when we recruited him that he can help us win. The one thing that's a little bit different that I've seen here this past week is that he might be better at the option than what I originally thought.
"The one thing that probably impressed me the most about him was his poise. As I said, it's one thing to get in as a quarterback in kind of a mop-up action, but it's another thing to get in when there's a lot of pressure and things going on. The poise that he had, he handled himself in the huddle.
"I thought more importantly than that, was when things were all around him and he kept his eyes downfield. He didn't think about scrambling, and he got the ball off. That's not as easy as a lot of people seem to think. Jacob gave us some things that I'm excited about. You see that ball come off his hand quick, and he stuck it in there well."
Strong, accurate arm. The size to see over linemen. The desire to find and hit the open man. Calmness under fire. It sounds like Charest has the tools to help Illinois now and in the future.
Of course, he must learn far more than just football. The quarterback is the face of the program, the most visible player. He must endure fan scrutiny that can be brutal when he isn't playing well. And he must face multiple, repetitive interrogations from media, who always want to talk to the quarterback. He says that might be a bigger problem for him than quarterbacking.
"To be honest with you, I'm a little more nervous about all that stuff than I am playing. I'm so intimidated by the media. Cameras and stuff in my face, that's scary."
He will get used to it, and it will be a worthwhile hassle if he's playing and producing victories.