Illinois quarterback Jacob Charest came into spring practice as the only experienced quarterback on the squad. He played in just four games last season, but Nathan Scheelhaase redshirted and Chandler Whitmer was leading his high school team.
Unfortunately for Charest, he had a first week to forget as he threw three consecutive interceptions one practice and continued to struggle with turnovers the next two. Operating with the second unit Saturday, he completed a long sideline bomb to A.J. Jenkins against the wind to get his confidence back.
"That was the kind of spark that got me going. I haven't had good practices, so that definitely got me going. Confidence is everything."
Charest certainly was questioning himself the first week.
"Oh, it's ten times better now. I was real frustrated last week because I was making mistakes, and I shouldn't be making mistakes. The offense is definitely starting to come around and work itself out for me."
Illinois coaches took the red shirts off the quarterbacks Saturday to see how they responded to live action when they knew they could get hit. Charest absorbed a violent hit from Supo Sanni once, but not before he scrambled for seven yards on third and six. He likes the physicality of the game.
"That's one of the parts of the game I love, to be honest with you. When I was growing up, I was used to it. I can run the ball a little bit."
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino runs a complex offense, one that requires a great deal of study.
"It's rough learning a whole new system and a whole new offense, but at the same time it's exciting and you get a new feel for something completely different than last year."
Charest has experienced some of the new style previously. He believes it suits him.
"Yeah, I think so. Early in high school we ran something similar to this. I haven't run it recently, but I definitely like it. It's a lot more under center, drop-back and play-action. There's still some shotgun. It's more pro-style."
With four year starter Juice Williams at the helm last season, the other quarterbacks knew they wouldn't be highlighted in the offense and felt less sense of responsibility for its success. It is different now.
"It's a little bit more weight on your shoulders. You're responsible for leading everyone out here. You're responsible for winning and losing games. You have to be ready to play every practice like a game."
The 6'-4", 220 pounder believes his experiences last season will help him in the long run.
"It's always good to know what will happen in a game. You've got a feel for the game speed and how things will play out. Experience isn't everything, but it helps."
Charest has been described as having a hitch in his motion. He was taught to flick his wrist to get more velocity on the ball, but it sometimes slows his release time on longer throws. He is working on improving it.
"We've been throwing a lot, and Coach (Jeff) Brohm has been working with me. He's been giving me tips to get the ball out of my hand quicker."
Petrino is a high-energy guy, and Charest has a four word compliment when asked about him.
"He's off the wall."
Charest was asked his impression of Whitmer, who graduated from Downers Grove South a semester early to take part in spring practice.
"Chandler's a good kid. He's funny. I respect him for coming in early. It shows he's ready to get here and start playing."
A good season and good career starts with a single day. Charest felt he had that Saturday. If he can string more of those together, he has a chance to win the quarterback derby.
"It was a pretty good day. There's definitely a couple things I need to work on, but that will come."