Charest impresses coaches in debut

Postgame interviews with Illinois football players following their six losses this season have mostly been a time of gloom and disappointment.

But after Illinois’ 24-14 loss at Purdue on Saturday, there was something unfamiliar being sported by an Illini player after the game — a smile.

The smile belonged to a beaming Jacob Charest, who made his collegiate debut in the second quarter of the game. While splitting time with Juice Williams at quarterback, the redshirt freshman completed 4 of 8 passes for 52 yards.

“It was just nice to be out there again,” Charest said.

He connected on four of his first five passing attempts in the second quarter before behind pulled for Williams, but later re-entered the game in the fourth quarter.

“I thought he made some nice plays out there,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said.

Starting the season buried behind senior starter Williams and junior Eddie McGee on the depth chart, Charest’s chances of seeing significant time on the field looked slim barring an injury.

Inconsistent play from Williams and McGee prompted Zook and the coaching staff to explore other options, opening the door for Charest’s debut.

“They told me I was going to play (last) Sunday when I came in to watch film,” Charest said after Saturday’s game. “Coach (Kurt) Beathard called me to make sure I was coming in.”

Following the Purdue loss, Zook said the team would be using a two-quarterback system with Williams and Charest. He declined to name a starter for next week’s matchup against Michigan during his weekly teleconference Sunday.

“It’s great to have Juice there to learn from him. He’s an experienced guy, and I have a lot of growing to do,” Charest said.

Charest impressed his teammates with both his playmaking abilities and his confidence.”

“He’s getting some great game experience and it gives him something to grow on,” senior center Eric Block said. “He’s got a good command of the offense, and he’s where he needs to be. He’s confident in the huddle.”

The vote of confidence from Zook and the Illini players came after Charest spent nearly his entire Illinois career watching from the sidelines.

For 18 games, Charest assumed the duties of a third-string quarterback, helping coaches signal in offensive plays.

Last week marked the first time in his two years at Illinois that Charest has seen significant snaps during practices.

“It was tough coming in with only one week of reps with the first and second team, so hopefully next week will be a little better,” Charest said.

The wait was not always easy one.

“I was always hoping that they would put me in, and it finally came,” he said.

Charest came in to relieve Williams at quarterback after Williams threw an interception in the third series.

“It presents an opportunity,” Charest said of entering games in the midst of offensive struggles. “It’s not nice that the team is losing, but it’d be good to get the team going. It gives me a chance to get things going and be the spark.”

In Williams and McGee, Illinois has had a running threat at quarterback for each of the last three-plus seasons, and Charest said he would like to keep the mobility at quarterback going.

“I think a lot of people think I’m just this slow white guy,” Charest said. “I can run if I have to. I’d like to run the ball a little more.”

Other Illini also downplayed the differences between the two quarterbacks, warning against drastic changes in production because of the switch.

“We have two great quarterbacks who know what to do, and we just have to execute next time,” junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn said.

“Whether it be Jacob or Juice, everybody’s going to be on the same page,” he added.

Still, there are obvious differences between the dual-threat Williams and the pro-style Charest. How will this change the play-calling?

“It’s kind of a secret,” Charest said with a grin.