Eddie McGee expected to finish his career at Illinois the way he began it, as a quarterback. He redshirted while Juice Williams started as a freshman. He replaced Williams early in the 2007 Missouri game and almost led the team to victory despite four turnovers.
He would have won the Iowa game that same season had a long touchdown pass not been called back by penalty. The Illini felt good knowing McGee was backing up Williams, ready to step in at any time.
"Unfortunately, given a chance to start last season, McGee had his worst game. It was a difficult pill to swallow for the proud Washington, D.C. athlete.
Then, Paul Petrino was hired to run the offense, and he switched from a spread option attack to a pro-style attack. It was less conducive for the speedy McGee, who proved a better runner than passer. And since a number of receivers graduated or moved on, McGee was asked to try receiver full time.
"Coach (Ron) Zook and I had a long discussion about it. But at the end of the day, we decided on this. It was my decision."
Zook appreciated McGee's team-first attitude.
"Eddie is a fiery guy and will do whatever he can do to help this football team."
McGee was given a small receiver package the past two years to take advantage of his speed, height (6'-4") and winning attitude. His role was limited to prevent an injury that would prevent him from replacing Williams if needed. When he moved permanently to receiver, he still had a great deal to learn.
"As a unit we're working hard, and I'm working as hard as I can. I feel like if I work hard it'll pay off. Right now I'm trying to learn the play book and do it the best I can. There's a lot of new technique and fundamentals. Just a whole new playbook, a lot of things I need to learn."
Still, he believes this new offensive philosophy will be advantageous for the Illini this fall.
"I feel like it's more effective against defense. We're working harder and trying to be the best that we can."
In a way, switching positions gives McGee a new perspective on his final season. He was a starter all spring, which he prefers. And the team needs him, so he has plenty of reason to work hard.
"Definitely. Playing a new position is exciting. I feel like I can do well at this position by the start of the season. Everything I'm doing now, I feel like I will have a decent role this fall."
That role may also include some quarterbacking. He was allowed to run a few plays late this spring as an option-running quarterback to take advantage of his speed and experience. It gives something else for defenses to worry about. The more he can do to help, the more confident he becomes in his abilities, the better he can serve as a team leader.
"Definitely. The more leadership on the team the better. So I'm just trying to see that we all do well as a team."
He likes his new receiver coach.
"He's a very passionate guy, very fiery guy. He knows what he's doing. He's a very good coach."
Petrino returns the compliment.
"He's getting better. There's certain things he does well. We're gonna try to get him the ball and use him."
Petrino feels the quarterback experience gives McGee an edge as a receiver.
"I think so. You understand coverages and what's going on in the secondary and how to get open. It's definitely an advantage. He's a good leader. We need him to keep making plays for us. He helps keep everybody positive and working hard."
If he keeps working at it, McGee can finally find the success that has eluded him up to now.