In the wake of second-string quarterback Jacob Charest’s decision to leave Illinois last week, coach Ron Zook said Tuesday before “Illini Night” at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva that fifth-year senior Eddie McGee will float between wide receiver and quarterback.
“We’ve been working Eddie anyway,” Zook said. “Eddie’s been in the mix anyway. The first part of spring ball, he basically was focusing on receiver. But then as we got into the spring, I pushed the issue about wanting him around (quarterback) as well. I felt it was important to first get the concept of playing wide receiver.”
Illinois announced last week, shortly after Charest’s departure, that redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase will be the starter for the 2010 opener barring injury. True freshmen Chandler Whitmer (Downers Grove South) and Miles Osei (Prospect) are the only other pure quarterbacks on scholarship. Whitmer already has a semester and 15 spring practices under his belt, but Osei won’t start working with the guys officially until summer school starts on Monday.
“We’ve got to have Eddie ready to go as well,” Zook said. “It’ll be double training for Eddie, but Eddie wants to do that. He’s excited about that and looking forward to the opportunity. Eddie just wants to play.”
McGee has started one game in his career. He got the nod last Oct. 10 against Michigan State, but was pulled after going 2 of 11 for 31 yards and 1 interception. For his career, McGee has completed 58 of 111 passes for 3 TDs and 6 INTs. He has rushed 82 times for 351 yards and 4 scores.
As for Charest’s departure after two years at Illinois. Charest’s father called Zook to deliver the news on June 1…shortly after Zook returned from his USO trip to visit the troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Germany.
“The thing they said was being homesick and being closer to home and all that kind of stuff,” Zook said. “But I think you see that happens. Every program, when you’ve got some pretty good quarterbacks, when they don’t feel like they’re going to be the guy…”
Charest’s return to Charlotte, N.C. affects Illinois one other way: Zook now says the Illini will try to sign two quarterbacks in February.
OTHER ILLINI STUFF
--Both Zook and Bruce Weber say they’re out of the loop when it comes to the wild Big Ten expansion rumors. Weber said the basketball coaches discussed the idea during the Big Ten meetings last month. Mostly they were curious about how a prospective schedule might work – how many conference games would the Big Ten teams play – and how the Big Ten tournament might set up.
Commissioner Jim Delany eased their fears.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” Weber said with a laugh. “ ‘That it would take care of itself and it was a ways off.’ So it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.”
--Redshirt freshman guard Joseph Bertrand just returned from an Athletes in Action tour of Poland, where he played point guard for a team led by former Southern Illinois stud Kent Williams (who played for Weber).
“It was good for him just to get playing time, so that was really positive,” Weber said. “He had two pretty good games. He ran point for the most part and I think he led them in assists. One game he got into foul trouble. That’s bad…you go all the way to Poland and get into foul trouble.
“I asked Kent, ‘Do you think he can play (point)?’ He said he thought he could play some, and that’s all we really need. If we’re going to be really good, they’ve all got to get better at dribbling and passing.
“The first thing they said (about him) was athleticism. (Kent) said he did not expect it….some tip dunks and stuff.”