Chandler Whitmer came to Illinois a semester early to compete for the starting quarterback job. He was realistic about it, knowing others were ahead of him. But he wanted to be as ready as possible. Now, he is glad he did as he may have to play as a true freshman.
Whitmer went into the summer third string, but second teamer Jacob Charest then decided to transfer. What was his first thought when he heard the news?
"I was sad. Jake's a good friend of mine. I had a real close relationship with him. He helped with whatever I needed. I guess he had to do what's best for him and his family. He did what he had to do I guess."
Of course, it was also an opportunity for Whitmer to get early playing time.
"It does. I got a call from the coaches telling me I had to step up this year in case something happened. That I had to be ready to play. That made me grow up a little bit and be ready to go. We're all competing and having a good time with it, but he left and it narrowed it down. I had to step up."
That is exactly what he did. While he still has much to learn, Whitmer has made marked improvement. He is happy with his progress.
"Things are going very well. I feel like a veteran now with all these other freshmen coming in. It's good to have a good knowledge of the offense. That's been great. Coming in early was awesome. It was a true blessing to be able to do that. I'm excited I did that.
"My head would be spinning like it was in the spring. Right now I feel comfortable with it. I know what I'm doing, I know my checks, I know what Coach (Paul) Petrino wants us to do. It's a good feeling."
His first semester on campus was an eye-opener. The normally self-assured young man was discouraged at times.
"Definitely. I'm so used to being the guy and being comfortable. When you get out there and you're not comfortable with what you're doing, you're not actually able to play your game. It's kind of hard to go out there and compete at a high level. Now after learning everything and doing all that, it feels great."
With that experience behind him, Whitmer and his teammates have been able to concentrate on making the improvements to become a good team.
"The summer has been going great. We've been working real hard. I'm excited about what we're doing this season. It could be a great season."
While Whitmer was recruited to run the spread option, he likes the new offense even better.
"I love Coach Petrino's offense. Coach (Jeff) Brohm has been working with us a lot. He's been great to work with, and he'll help is if we ever need anything. We've got some great coaches, and everybody's been working hard. So it's exciting."
Whitmer is fundamentally sound, has a strong and accurate throwing arm and is a good leader. His 5'-11" height kept him from being ranked higher in high school, but he doesn't see that as an impediment.
"Not really. The main thing is just being able to move in the pocket. The d-linemen are a lot faster. Just being able to find those throwing lanes. Nobody's gonna throw over these 6'-5" to 6'-6" linemen. Just being able to move quicker to avoid the rush and find the throwing lanes has been the biggest thing for me."
Whitmer's status is uncertain right now. He would be better off redshirting, and in an ideal world Scheelhaase would stay healthy and not need replacing. But Illinois coaches may decide to give him playing time so he will have the needed experience should he be needed later in the year. He is in the precarious position of not knowing, one way or the other.
"It is a mixed emotion. Redshirting would be nice, but if I'm called upon to play, then I have to be ready. I've been doing everything I can to learn offense, pick up and watch Mizzou.
"Each week I'm gonna have to play like a starter no matter what. If my number's called, great. If not, and if they want me to redshirt, then that's good too."