Scheelhaase performs on day one of fall practice

Since being named the starting quarterback of the Illinois football team, all eyes have been on redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase.

On day one of Camp Rantoul, he did not disappoint.

Scheelhaase and the Illini hit the practice field Thursday outside Memorial Stadium — the opening three days of Camp Rantoul are in Champaign — for the first time this fall, looking to return to the form of the squad that went to the Rose Bowl just three years prior.

The orange squad practiced without pads in the first half of the day, starting with individual position practice drills.

Scheelhaase threw sharply, hitting receivers both when he had his feet set and on the run.

The group then went into a team period where he continued to show accuracy.

It’s only been one day on the field, but thanks to hard work, training and studying, he’s gained the respect of players and coaches without yet having taken a snap in a game in his collegiate career.

“I’m very impressed with Nate, he’s very mature,” said senior Eddie McGee, who is transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver for the upcoming season. “He did a great job today and I see a lot of good things in the future as he progresses.”

“He was getting everybody going,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook added. “I thought he handled himself extremely well and was poised.”

After taking a limited number of reps in last year’s training camp, Scheelhaase also said he hopes opposing teams treat him like a freshman, causing them to enter games against Illinois overconfident.

“Last year I was hoping and praying I’d get a rep every once in a while,” Scheelhaase said. “Now I get to take every rep these first three practices, which is great. The more experience I can get, the more I can learn.”

After the team period ended, the blue squad joined in on the action, working with the orange in a special teams session.

In that, senior Anthony Santella launched a few punts in the air with what looked to be much improved hang time.

Following the conclusion of the special teams session, for the rest of the day, the field belonged to the blue team.

Junior Mikel LeShoure showed bursts of speed like those that helped him achieve a Big Ten-best 6.8 yards per carry last year.

Thursday also marked the much-anticipated return of junior linebacker Martez Wilson, who missed most of last season due to an injury.

The Chicago native is now clear to fully participate in practice.

“I can’t wait to see him get going also,” Zook said. “He’ll pick up right where we felt he was going to be last year. He seeks contact and that makes him the player he can be. He’s showing no signs of being shy.”

“He’s a really nice looking player, and I’d rather have him than not; I can promise you that,” defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “We have to put him into a position to make plays.”

Still, the buzz of the day surrounded Scheelhaase, who was surrounded by reporters after practice answering questions about everything from the scheme to whether Brett Favre is coming back next year.

“It’s probably the most pressure over here with all of these cameras in my face,” Scheelhaase said. “I’m out there getting coached up by those guys, focused on each and every play. I don’t have time to think about pressure of the first snap, I’m just trying to execute the play at hand.”