McGee To Play Vital Role For Illini

In most cases, college football teams are only as good as their senior leadership. At Illinois, the upcoming seniors are small in number, so the quality of their leadership is essential. Eddie McGee is doing his part, not only as a leader but in preparing for service at two important positions on the offense.

Eddie McGee came to Illinois from Washington, D.C., to play quarterback. Stuck behind Juice Williams for four years, this year was going to be his breakout opportunity. However, his inconsistencies at the position and the new offense brought in by offensive coordinator Paul Petrino suggested he would help the Illini more at receiver.

The 6'-4" McGee played some receiver the past two years to utilize his speed. This spring, he devoted most of his time there and secured a first team berth. Now, after experienced backup Jacob Charest transferred this summer, McGee finds himself needing to prepare at receiver and quarterback.

"I guess you could say I'm both," McGee stated on WDWS radio. "I'm a 'Slash,' that's what Coach (Ron) Zook often calls me."

McGee was given a small package of quarterback plays this spring, but that will likely expand this fall for use should starter Nathan Scheelhaase falter or become disabled. Still, he now prefers receiver.

"I'm mainly focusing on receiver, but I'll also have a couple opportunities where I'll be behind center and take some snaps."

While he had played well at times backing up Williams, McGee had never started a game until Michigan State last fall. A poor performance was disheartening.

"That game was just a rough game. It was my first start, and I just didn't play as well as I wanted to. Things happen, they just don't go your way sometimes."

If he hadn't considered a position switch earlier, that game may have pushed him toward receiver. It helps that Petrino is also the receiver coach.

"Receiver is a lot different. It's a lot more physically taxing, but I enjoy it, I love it. Coach Petrino really knows his stuff. He's a great coach. He's been around and coached great players. He's really helped us all out.

"I was talking to a couple teammates after the spring. We talked about how when he first arrived, we learned more than we had ever learned just by his experience and knowledge of the game. Working with him and having him as a coach is really an advantage. I really enjoy it."

The changes brought in by Petrino required new learning. It is even more a challenge when trying to develop two positions like McGee.

"It was completely different than the previous offensive system. Coach (Mike) Locksley's system was very different from Petrino's. It took some time and a lot of studying to learn it, a lot of coming in and meeting with Coach. But the spring really helped us a lot because we really learned the whole offense. Over the summer we learned it even more."

As a team leader, it is McGee's job to provide a positive spin on the program and upcoming season. But he seems sincere when he talks about how well informal, player-led workouts have gone this summer.

"Oh man, the summer has been great. It's been awesome. We were doing 7 on 7 three or four times a week. At first, we were just becoming acclimated to the new system and the playbook.

"But now we've really grasped a great concept of the offense, so for the rest of the summer we've become better in our technique at our positions. We've become more whole as a team, and it's been really great to see how it has unfolded."

Since leadership is a concern, McGee was asked who has served to lead the team this summer in the coaches' absence.

"Everybody has a role and knows what their particular role is. Each one is important. But we're really one unit. We're on the same page. Nate Scheelhaase is our leader. When he steps in the huddle, we all stop and listen to him. We go by his word. I say a few things here and there when I feel I need to say something, and guys really take to my word and listen to what I say.

"So I would say myself and Nate at the skill positions. But on the offensive line, I would say Jeff Allen has really become a leader, not by words but by his actions. He's been playing really well. He's started since a freshman, so he's really improving. He's more of an action leader.

"On the defensive side, there are so many guys that are stepping up and trying to be accountable. They're making each other accountable.

"Martez is healthy and is participating. He's doing a very good job. He's been in on a lot of plays in 7 on 7. He is one of the leaders on defense. Clay Nurse is the vocal guy on that side, and Tavon Wilson also. So I'd say those three are the leaders on the defensive side."

Missouri awaits in St. Louis to start the 2010 season. Each previous encounter, the Tigers have pounded on the Illini. Last season's game was a total embarrassment for all Illini coaches, players and fans. Some fans have assumed Missouri expected to win and Illinois just hoped to win. McGee disagrees.

"I want to talk about that game. That's not our attitude, that's not my attitude. We're going into that game expecting to win. What happened in the past is in the past. Ain't nothing you can do about that.

"We're not worried about previous years or previous games. We're on a whole new page. This year we're expecting to win. We're not going in there hoping to win. We're really confident that we will win. We're putting in a great game plan, and we have great players.

"Last year was an embarrassing season. It is what it is. I don't want anybody to get confused and think our mindset is anything but a winning mindset. The addition of Coach Petrino, Coach (DeAndre) Smith, Coach (Jeff) Brohm, Coach Vic (Koenning), all those guys. I'm just so excited, it's unreal how good we can be."

One might expect fifth year seniors to see Camp Rantoul as drudgery. But McGee looks forward to it.

"I can't wait for Rantoul. I talk to Nate about this almost every day. I can't wait to walk onto that Rantoul campus and just soak it up."

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