O'Toole forges his own path

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- Reilly O'Toole's decision earlier this summer to commit to play quarterback at Illinois was not a family one, or at least not the decision each member of his family has made.

The family school of choice is Kansas. O'Toole's mother and father met as students there, and his three older siblings attend now.

But O'Toole, the returning starter from last season's Wheaton Warrenville South Class 7A state championship team, actually picked the school that should make him feel right at home, despite his family history.

"They were saying I was at the top of their list of [quarterbacks]," O'Toole said in July at a 7-on-7 tournament at Downers Grove South. "It felt good to be wanted."

Northwestern wanted O'Toole, too, and he spoke highly of its coaches. Minnesota and a handful of other schools were also interested, including Kansas. O'Toole visited Kansas three times, but the Jayhawks had a pool of quarterbacks and weren't set on an offensive scheme under new coach Turner Gil.

The Illini were the best fit. They also were there at a moment Mike O'Toole credits for determining his son's athletic future. Until Reilly O'Toole was 7, his family lived in Kansas and spent a lot of time at his grandparents' home in Lawrence a few blocks from the KU campus. And, of course, at Allen Fieldhouse for Kansas basketball games.

"Growing up I played basketball, I was more of a basketball guy," said Reilly O'Toole, also the Tigers' starting point guard.

"I thought I would always play basketball."

And it looked like he might choose to play basketball over football in college. But last summer, an Illinois coach -- football, that is -- showed up in Deerfield to talk to Reilly O'Toole after one of his AAU basketball games.

"That's kind of when we realized that [football] was going to be the path he took," Mike O'Toole said. "I thought [the discussion with the Illinois coach] was going to be about basketball, and he said, 'Dad, that was the football coach.'"

At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Reilly O'Toole is an ideal quarterback for a pro-style offense -- the style Illinois is adopting this year under new coordinator Paul Petrino -- Wheaton Warrenville South football coach Ron Muhitch said. He's also careful with the ball, Muhitch said, likely a result of his background as a point guard.

Reilly O'Toole limits turnovers on the hardwood and the football field. Muhitch said he threw just three interceptions last season after taking over the position in the Tigers' third game.

His accuracy has been sharp as usual this summer, the main reason Muhitch's team lost just one game during the first three 7-on-7 tournaments it participated in.

And, with targets like 6-foot-7 tight end Jason Schuman and receiver Titus Davis, the main reason it wouldn't be a surprise if perennial powerhouse Wheaton Warrenville South repeats as Class 7A champs.

Alex Ruppenthal is an intern for ESPNChicago.com.