Freshman Osei filling unexpected role for unexpected school

Last Saturday was a special day for backup quarterback Miles Osei.

As the Illini set up to play Northern Illinois, the freshman wasn’t making his first start and wasn’t sure if he’d even take a snap. No, the day was irregular for Osei because the last time the instate rivals had competed, it was for Osei’s college career.

Osei committed to Northern Illinois last December, with no doubt he would compete for the starting job for the Huskies.

But then things got more complicated for the all-state quarterback — who compiled over 3,600 yards of total offense as a senior — as Eddie McGee’s move to receiver opened a quarterback spot on the Illinois roster.

“When I was committed, I was 100 percent, but me and my family kind of talked it over and wanted to make sure I made the right decision,” he said.

Osei was pleased with the football situation at each school. The chance to start right away was enticing, but so was the chance to play at a Big Ten school, even as the second quarterback in his class.

So the decision came down to academics, and Osei decided to study psychology at Illinois.

And things have gone better than expected for the dual-threat quarterback.

After sophomore Jake Charest left Illinois and Nathan Scheelhaase was named the starter, it was left to he and fellow freshman Chandler Whitmer to compete for the backup spot.

“When we had him in summer scrimmages, he found ways to make plays,” quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm said.

“He’s a young guy, that, when it came to game situations, he stepped up his play. It was very encouraging to see, and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”

Osei played the final drive of Illinois’ victory against Southern Illinois two weeks ago, ensuring that he wouldn’t redshirt, while Whitmer, who came to Illinois a semester early to participate in spring practice, will likely sit out the year to retain his freshman eligibility.

Now on the same track as Scheelhaase, Osei will need something unexpected to happen to get a chance at the starting spot. But even Scheelhaase doesn’t doubt his teammate’s abilities.

“He came in in the summer and didn’t have a huge grasp of the offense — there’s only so much you can know coming in,” Scheelhaase said. “But he’s kind of willed himself to figuring it out and being the confident player.

“It’s been great to be around him … he’s been a hard worker since day one.”

Osei didn’t engineer a drive to score a game-winning touchdown during last weekend’s 28-22 Illini win against Northern Illinois.

He didn’t even get in the game.

But watching from the sidelines, the game was special — even exciting — for him.

“It was a little different,” he said. “But at the same time, it was really fun to battle it off against a team that I could’ve gone to.”