Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase looks to fulfill his potential


Nathan Scheelhaase was one of the centerpieces of Ron Zook's 2009 recruiting class at Illinois. Scheelhaase, from Kansas City, was considered one of the nation's top-10 dual-threat quarterbacks and thought to be a worthy successor to Juice Williams as the Illini's quarterback.

Scheelhaase played well as a redshirt freshman in 2010, throwing for 1,825 yards and 17 TDs and running for another 868 yards and five scores. But that season has been his high-water mark, and he enters his senior season carrying the tag of "unfulfilled potential."

He has thrown 17 TD passes (along with 16 interceptions) in the past two seasons combined. He missed two games last season and played hurt in others because of knee and ankle injuries, but he basically was ineffective when healthy and shared time with Reilly O'Toole.

Scheelhaase will be the starter when camp opens Monday, and he'll be working for new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who spent the past eight seasons as coach at Western Michigan. Illinois had co-coordinators last season, but Chris Beatty (now Wisconsin's wide receivers coach) and Billy Gonzales (now Mississippi State's wide receivers coach) never meshed and the offense sputtered.

Cubit oversaw some prolific passing attacks at Western Michigan, and second-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman has been effusive in his praise of Cubit, calling his presence "huge" as the Illini look to revamp their offense.

"I don't know if words could actually describe what I think he's meant to this staff since he's joined us in January," Beckman said at Big Ten Media Day last week. "He's got a great background of being a leader. He's got a great background of calling plays. Probably called a million plays-plus in his career."

The main reason for Cubit's hiring was to rev up the passing attack, but there aren't a lot of proven receiving threats on the roster. Senior Ryan Lankford, the son of former NFL CB Paul Lankford, is the leading returning wide receiver; he had 37 receptions last season -- but just 55 in his career. Illinois threw a lot to its tailbacks last season, but that's not Cubit's offense.

Senior WR Spencer Harris and junior TE Jon Davis could be become important components. The same goes for junior college transfer Martize Barr, who enrolled in January and went through spring practice. He started five games at safety for New Mexico in 2011 before transferring.

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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