A conversation with an Illini: Reilly O'Toole

By Kevin McCarthy

He wore the No. 4 on the field, but was always No. 1 in the hearts of those all the way from the ole’ Blarney stone near Cork to the bustling town of Champaign. The former Illini starting quarterback and current graduate assistant coach sat down to talk with me about everything from Spongebob to Juice Williams.

Kevin McCarthy: It’s good to be with a fellow Irishman like yourself.

Reilly O’Toole: Yes, it is.

KM: What are the specials this weekend at Reilly O’Toole’s Pub?

RO: If the Illini win this weekend, everything is free. All you can eat.

KM: This is going in the paper. People are going to be expecting you to follow through.

RO: Bring it on.

KM: I want you to know that my middle name is O’Brien. Since I also have an apostrophe in my name, I thought we could be friends, we could bond over our apostrophes. It’s very rare.

RO: So rare. We’re in elite company, for sure.

KM: Let’s get serious. Why don’t you talk about a couple of your favorite memories of your four years of playing football here at Illinois?

RO: Some of the wins senior year like Penn State, Minnesota and Northwestern are such awesome memories. But a lot of my favorite memories are in the locker room waiting for practice to start, or after practice, or after a big win. Also in my apartment with all of my teammates, just relaxing and getting away from football for a bit.

KM: As a graduate assistant for the team this year, what are your responsibilities and how do you help the team?

RO: I really help out the offensive coaches with game plans and breaking down film. Mainly with the running backs.

KM: How have you liked that job, and how do you like working with (former Illini quarterback) Nathan Scheelhaase?

RO: I’ve loved the job. The time commitment has been the biggest change — I thought you had to put in a lot of work as a player. Coaching is two or three times the work.

But working with Nate has been awesome. Working with one of your close friends is always fun.

KM: Talk a little bit about beating Northwestern on Ryan Field to send your team to a bowl game.

RO: After we won the Penn State game last year, we all bought in. We knew that it was do or die. I remember getting very emotional before the game knowing that this could be my last football game.

KM: What was it like playing for (former offensive coordinator and current head coach) Bill Cubit?

RO: It was really awesome. When he first got here, it was really tough because he challenged me. He questioned if I really wanted to play college football. But in time, he made me believe in myself and believe that I could play at that level. It’s really a blessing to me that he came to Champaign.

KM: Do you miss putting on the pads?

RO: Absolutely, yes. Absolutely.

KM: I know you don’t like to talk about yourself, but I’m going to make you. What made you a good quarterback?

RO: I tried to make people around me better. I didn’t have all the physical tools that traditional quarterbacks have — like the big, strong arm. I just always wanted to play really hard, and rally my teammates, and help them to play to the best of their abilities.

KM: In 2009, you lead your Wheaton Warrenville South Tigers to a victory over my Geneva Vikings in the IHSA playoffs. I was in 8th grade — you broke my little heart. How does that make you feel that you made 8th-grade-Kevin sad?

RO: I feel really bad but at the same time I’m glad we won. Hopefully you got over it — doesn’t really sound like you have that much — but someone had to lose.

KM: Dang, you’re embracing being a heartbreaker. You’re like Taylor Swift.

RO: A lot of people like Taylor Swift.

KM: So a lot of people like you, I guess. Back to the Geneva Vikings, do you have anything against a Geneva Viking like myself?

RO: You’re not from Wheaton so that’s kind of a bummer.

KM: How do you feel about the infamous “Faux Pellini” twitter account?

RO: I think it’s hilarious. I actually met the guys that run it. I went down to Austin, Texas for a big Kansas vs. Texas basketball game. They do it in good fun.

KM: You were a good running quarterback. But if I threw you in a foot race with Juice Williams, you wouldn’t fare so well. How about you and Juice playing some Nintendo 64 Mario Kart?

RO: I have definitely played my fair share of Mario Kart. I think I would make up for my lack of speed with my skill behind an N64 controller. I’d put all my money down on myself for that one, but not so much on the foot race.

KM: Do you have any favorite childhood television shows?

RO: I still love Spongebob, that’s still going strong. I loved Rocket Power. I was just a big Nickelodeon fan.

KM: Do you know the episode of Spongebob where he draws all the perfect circles?

RO: Yes.

KM: Please don’t hate me too much for asking this — but is your face a perfect circle like the ones Spongebob drew? Did Spongebob design it?

RO: I’d like to think so because my face is a perfect circle. When I take my hat off, it looks like a basketball.

KM: I was nervous about asking that, but I’m glad we’re on the same page.

KM: Final question. One day, down the road, us two irishmen — Kevin O’Brien McCarthy and Reilly O’Toole — can we get together for some corned beef and cabbage and a pair of stouts?

RO: Sign me up, I’m there.

Kevin is a sophomore in Media.

[email protected]

@KevOMcCarthy