Competition pushes Colter, Scheelhaase

CHICAGO -- The similarities between Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter range wide.

Let’s start with they’re both quarterbacks and both juniors. Those are the simple ones.

Let’s now move to the more unique similarities. They both wear No. 2. They play for rival college programs in Illinois, but are both from out of state (Scheelhaase is from Missouri, Colter from Colorado).

They’re both dual-threat quarterbacks, and both rushed and passed for more than 600 yards last season. They both caught a pass last season (Scheelhaase had one reception, Colter had 43). They’ll both be running spread offenses this season.

Even beyond that, they’re two quarterbacks who have been touted for their athleticism and sometimes questioned about their arm strength. They both have sophomore quarterbacks with stronger arms who are pushing them for time. They both feel like they have something to prove this season.

And finally, Colter and Scheelhaase possess respect for each other.

“He’s fun to watch,” Scheelhaase said Friday during the Big Ten media days. “He’s a guy you like to turn on and watch and see what he’s doing at the quarterback spot because he has a lot of similarities to what I do.”

Colter’s appreciation for Scheelhaase goes back to their high school days.

“I don’t know if Scheelhaase knows this, but my rival high school played his rival high school, and I used to watch him as we game-planned for my rival high school because they had just played the week before,” Colter said. “I’m like, ‘Who is this quarterback out there?’ This guy looks good. He’s out there balling.’ It turned out to be Nathan Scheelhaase.

“I like to see him out there playing. I don’t like to see him making big plays against Northwestern, but he’s definitely a similar athlete to me, similar quarterback to me.”

The two similar quarterbacks will get their first chance to clash as starters on Nov. 24 when Illinois travels to Northwestern in the final week of the Big Ten season.

A year ago, Scheelhaase, who has started 26 games in two seasons, got the best of Northwestern in a 38-35 win in Champaign. Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another touchdown. Colter, who backed up Dan Persa, came into the game late when Persa left with an injury, but he only threw two passes and rushed six times.

This will be Colter’s first season as Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald’s No. 1 quarterback. Colter played off and on at quarterback last season depending on Persa’s health. Colter started the team’s first three games at quarterback, going 2-1 as a starter, and then was put into a wide receiver role when Persa returned to the field from an Achilles’ injury.

Colter excelled at wide receiver and caught 43 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns. In the Wildcats’ upset of Nebraska, Colter displayed his all-around ability as he threw for 115 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 57 yards.

Now with Persa graduated, Colter looks forward to being just a quarterback.

“Going into camp, I want to be able to prove to my team, my coaches I can be a full-time starting quarterback and be successful at it,” Colter said. “I really want to be able to prove I can throw the ball down field and make every throw on the field. My arm strength is getting a lot better. I’m excited I’m getting that opportunity to prove myself.”

If Northwestern’s coaches do ask Colter to play some wide receiver, he won’t turn them down. Colter said he wants to do what’s best for the team and loves being pushed by sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian.

“Competition always makes everybody better,” Colter said. “The guy right behind me, a good friend of mine, Trevor Siemian, is a great quarterback, has a great arm. We have our battles out there. I’m fully confident in him if something happens to me that he can go out there and lead the team. You may see us both out on the field at the same time this year.”

Scheelhaase has a similar situation at Illinois. While Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Scheelhaase would be his starter if the season started this week, Beckman is still considering using a two-quarterback system with Scheelhaase and sophomore Reilly O’Toole. O’Toole played in 10 games and threw 67 passes last season.

Like Colter, Scheelhaase welcomes the competition and is all for what’s in the Illini’s best interest. “I definitely don’t feel disrespected because competition is something that makes everyone better,” Scheelhaase said. “I don’t feel slighted or feel frustrated with that. We enjoy the competition. We enjoy pushing each other, encouraging each other and helping each other.

“At the end of the day, we look at it as if we can be the best two quarterbacks in this conference, in this country, our team is going to be a whole lot better.”

So what will happen when Colter and Scheelhaase square off at the end of the season? Scheelhaase predicted a fun and offensive-minded wintery day.

“I’m sure the weather won’t cooperate on that day, and both of our offenses are geared toward great weather,” Scheelhaase said. “It’ll be a pretty fast-paced game. It might look like two teams trying to run a 5-on-5 fast break.”