Illini QB Scheelhaase wise beyond his years

  • Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fills out questionnaires Sunday during media day.

    Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fills out questionnaires Sunday during media day. Associated Press

Published: 8/8/2010 9:54 PM

CHAMPAIGN - Nathan Scheelhaase has yet to take a college snap that matters, but the redshirt freshman from Kansas City has established himself as the wizened veteran of Illinois' quarterback corps.

As the Illini packed for Sunday's 15-mile drive to Camp Rantoul - where they'll hold 13 practices and two scrimmages before returning to school on Aug. 21 - Scheelhaase had a little advice for camp roommate Miles Osei.

The true freshman quarterback from Prospect High School spent some of his rare free time during the summer getting the better of Scheelhaase in the FIFA video game.

Consider their series, which Osei leads 7-5-2, suspended for the next fortnight.

"I told him he can't bring the Xbox," Scheelhaase said. "It's time to get focused. If you have games in your room, you're way too awake and not studying the stuff you're supposed to study.

"You should be so tired that, when you get free time, you should sleep. If you're at Rantoul, you should get better at football rather than upping your FIFA stats."

That's just fine with Osei and this year's Illini as a whole.

After winning just three games last year, then watching athletic director Ron Guenther and head coach Ron Zook fire both coordinators and two assistants, any of the players' lingering entitlement from their 2008 Rose Bowl participation is long gone.

"We're a team that's got something to prove, really," Scheelhaase said. "These two weeks is a great time to make large steps in that direction. That's what we're focusing on every day in Rantoul."

A lot of interested Illini fans and bystanders will focus on the quarterbacks.

Scheelhaase won the job with a strong spring. But aside from fifth-year senior Eddie McGee, who'll focus on wide receiver but remain an emergency backup, the only other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster are freshmen Chandler Whitmer and Osei.

It might be unfair to call Whitmer a true freshman. He was graduated from Downers Grove South a semester early to get a jump start on his collegiate experience.

Not only does he know new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's offensive systems better than most, he also earned 20 academic hours.

"Redshirting would be nice, but if I'm called upon to play, I'm going to have to be ready," Whitmer said, "Each week I'm going to have to prepare like the starter, no matter what."

Osei, on the other hand, didn't arrive on campus until June 14. The lefty took two summer-school classes and spent most of the rest of his hours trying to catch up to Scheelhaase and Whitmer.

"The first day I came in, we went right into passing lines," Osei said.

"It's good because it exposes you into it right away, but it was coming fast. Right now, I feel like everything has slowed down a little bit."

They're only three days into fall practice, but the normally measured Petrino has been pleased with their progress.

"I think Chandler has been throwing the ball really well," Petrino said. "That's something he does well in 7-on-7. He's just got to continue to improve when it's 11-on-11, when he does have people in front of him and pushing the pocket.

"Miles, for just a true freshman out there, he's done some nice things. You can just tell he's got some nice instincts about the game of football. He's a little quicker than I thought he was, when he does tuck it and run. He's got a nice, compact release. I like the way the ball comes out of his hands."