It is the direct opposite situation than the one a year ago. In fact, other than the fact that both are good runners – in their own ways – and both are terrific kids, Juice Williams and Nathan Scheelhaase couldn't be any more different. And, with those differences, the change in the quarterback position for the Illini as they approach this season of intrigue.
Juice Williams was a four-year starter, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country. Scheelhaase has never played in a college game. Juice was 235-pounds, strong as an ox. The 6-foot-3 Scheelhaase is listed at 195 and that may be generous. Juice could throw it a country mile and a hundred miles an hour, although he at times struggled with accuracy. Scheelhaase has moderate arm strength at best, but appears to be deadly accurate.
Still, as the season gets set to begin, the talk in the football offices isn't about comparisons at all, but rather a work-a-holic who they have to chase out of the football offices.
"He's always up there, always watching tape, always asking questions, always wanting to learn," coach Ron Zook said. "And I mean always. We tell him to go home. But boy does he work at it."
Scheelhaase, a redshirt freshman, moved ahead of sophomore Jacob Charest early in spring practice, before officially being named the starter over the summer . Charest has since left school and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, who participated in the spring, will serve as the backup. But make no mistake about this: barring injury, this is Nathan Scheelhaase's team.
"He's up to that, I'll tell you that," Zook said. "He already is a very good leader. When we were doing the 6 a.m.s, which we break into teams, his team won every day. Every day. Everyone always wanted to be on his team. And with that work ethic, he'll be far better come fall than he was in the spring. And he wasn't bad in the spring."
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino likely will protect Scheelhaase early, or so you would think. Probably a bunch of play action and shorter routes. Yet, the swiftness with which Scheelhaase has learned the offense, means the biggest mistake opposing coaches could make is to assume Illinois will be close to the vest.
"The good thing is opposing teams have never seen Paul with our personnel, so we have a bit of an advantage there," Zook said. "But that stuff doesn't last very long. But Paul and Jeff (quarterbacks coach Brohm) will have Nathan ready. I have no doubts."
If anything does happen to Scheelhaase, the Illini could make an emergency move back to Eddie McGee, for now converted to receiver. But it also likely will be trial under fire for Whitmer, a 5-11, 205 pounder with a beautiful throwing motion and cannon arm. He isn't very big, but neither is Drew Brees. In fact, their throwing motions and size are almost identical. Whitmer is another who got better every day in spring.
"When he first got out there, he was a little shell-shocked, which you expect," Zook said. "So much to learn and everything goes so fast. But it didn't take long. He got better every day. He is more and more ready every time you see him."
Finally, the third quarterback will be another true freshman, Miles Osei. The lefty is also 5-11, but lightning quick and may have the strongest arm of the three.
"And he is very poised," said Dan Disch, the Illinois coach who recruited him. "You could see that every time we watched him."