At this point, Michigan fans probably feel like Nathan Scheelhaase has been playing college football for a decade.
But the redshirt junior Illinois quarterback is in just his third season as the starter, with another one on tap next year. A two-time captain, Scheelhaase has had plenty of success as a dual-threat gunslinger for the Fighting Illini. But the wins haven’t been plentiful, which led to a coaching change after last season.
Former coach Ron Zook was replaced by Tim Beckman, formerly of Toledo, who has led Illinois to a disappointing 2-4 heading into this week’s matchup against Michigan.
At Big Ten Media Days in July, the Daily sat down with Scheelhaase to discuss his new coach, as well as the quarterback’s memories of going up against the Wolverines.
The Michigan Daily: How has the transition to Coach Beckman’s system gone so far? Were you apprehensive at all about having to go through such a big change, and did you try and help the team stay focused through it all?
Nathan Scheelhaase: Once Coach Beckman got in, we all got comfortable with him in pretty rapid fashion. It was easy to make that transition. But those are some of the things that you worry about, and there’s no question that you do. I think he understood that he had made a transition before, and knew what it took to really get around to us, and to not only know us as players on the field but as men off it. He did a great job. I didn’t have anything to do with that, that was all him gaining that respect in a great fashion.
TMD: What’s the biggest difference between Coach Zook and Coach Beckman that you’ve seen so far?
NS: I think just the competitive nature Coach Beckman has. He makes everything a competition, from offensive and defensive GPA, to spring practices, to strength competitions in the summer. It’s always a competition. That’s definitely been really exciting for all of us, because it tells us just that competitive nature is something that can’t shock you during the season, when you face somebody trying to stop you from reaching your goal. That’s something we’ve all grown accustomed to this offseason.
TMD: When going through a transition like that, it probably helps to have a returning starter at quarterback, like yourself. How much does that help a team, coaching change or not?
NS: I think the biggest thing that helps those teams, they know who they have to rally around. Just having that confidence in a triggerman helps out a whole lot I think. If you look at everybody that’s playing football right now, that’s watched football over the years, they know that quarterback is a very demanding position, and if they’re confident in their triggerman, that’s going to make the team confident in turn.
TMD: How different is the offense going to look this season?
NS: Pretty different. It’s not going to look like anything we’ve done the past two years. It’s going to go at a faster pace. We expect the ball to get to all areas of the field at any given time. And that’s something that really makes us more of a dangerous offense, puts the defense on its heels. It’s something that as players you feel good about, because I think there were times last year, having A.J. (Jenkins), as good a player as he was, we keyed on him a little too much, and the defense knew that wherever he was, that’s where the ball was going to go. This year, I think we’re becoming more diverse in how we’re spreading the ball around a little more.
TMD: You’ve been playing for quite a while now. Was there a moment when it sort of clicked for you, when you became fully comfortable?
NS: There’s a certain point when it doesn’t matter what offense you’re running, you kind of have a grasp of things. I think it happened somewhere probably freshman year when we played Michigan in that high-scoring game. It was one of those games when I felt like I had complete control. I knew what I was looking for, I knew where I was going with the ball. Just saw things from a different lens.
TMD: Speaking of that game against Michigan in 2010, now that you’ve had a couple years to reflect on it, just how crazy was it, to have a score like 67-65?
NS: Honestly, it’ll probably feel a lot better to look back on if we find a way to beat Michigan at some point in my career. They snubbed us that year, they got after us last year. … But you look back at that game, and you know it’s definitely one for the record books, that you’ll look back and watch with your kids. Maybe after we score that last touchdown in the third overtime, I’ll find a way to make the DVD stop running or something like that so I don’t have to watch until the end.