Nathan Scheelhaase grows up fast for Illini

Nathan Scheelhaase had finished his first class of the day and was mid-nap when his phone rang in early June.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook was on the line, informing Scheelhaase that he would enter camp as the team's starting quarterback.

"It’s something I've dreamed about since the second grade," Scheelhaase said. "Especially in the Big Ten, with my dad [Nate Creer, a former Iowa defensive back] playing in the Big Ten, going to two Rose Bowls. You hear about the conference all your life, and it's finally my turn."

Given Scheelhaase's football roots and the magnitude of Zook's announcement, can you guess what he did next?

  • a. Call every number in his cell phone and let them know the big news.

  • b. Climb up the bell tower at Altgeld Hall and scream "I am Spartacus!" to those in the Quad.

  • c. Look up Illinois career passing records and calculate how to break them.

  • d. None of the above

If you guessed d, you're the big winner.

"I stayed on the couch, called my parents and told them the news," Scheelhaase said, "and then went back to bed."

Back to bed?!?!

Most redshirt freshmen would be too excited, too overwhelmed or at least too wired to sleep after learning they'd be leading a Big Ten offense in their first career collegiate game. But Scheelhaase isn't a typical redshirt freshman.

Spend a few minutes talking with the Illinois signal caller, and you'll come away impressed. His father has prepared him well for the college spotlight, and being a big-time recruit at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City.

Scheelhaase might look like a young quarterback on the field this fall, but his maturity and poise are obvious away from it. Having the starter's tag has added more leadership responsibility, but Scheelhaase was taking the right steps long before he knew he'd be Illinois' No. 1.

"Even back to winter workouts, looking at it from a work-ethic standpoint, that's how you gain leadership and gain respect from the players," he said. "After the spring, those guys felt comfortable with me behind center, and I felt comfortable leading those guys. In the summer, running our 7-on-7s, running the routes with receivers and making sure all the guys are working harder, we were able to come to camp and start off strong.

"There was no slacking and not a lot of mistakes on first day because of that work."

After learning new coordinator Paul Petrino's offensive scheme essentially from scratch this spring, Scheelhaase has had an easier time in camp. While it became obvious midway through the spring that he'd be the starter, the increased reps he's seeing now are paying off.

"I've gone through a summer, watched a ton of tape," he said. "Obviously, coaches are calling plays that I feel comfortable with. There's a big difference."