Offensive familiarity equals success for Illinois QB Scheelhasse

BY MATT COZZI | AUGUST 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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A.J. Jenkins finally has a sense of familiarity.

The highly recruited wide receiver has had three different offensive coordinators during his career at Illinois. As a freshman, Jenkins was under the tutelage of Mike Locksley, who took the head coaching job at New Mexico. After a less-than-stellar 2009 season, then-offensive coordinator Mike Schultz was relieved of his duties.

Paul Petrino returns this fall for his second year on staff, however, signaling the first time the Illini’s senior class will play under the same offensive scheme in two-consecutive seasons.

Jenkins said the stability Petrino brings gives the Illini a sense of relief.

“To have the same system twice in a row, that’s great for us,” he said at Big Ten media days last month. “We have a lot of confidence. We don’t have to get into [fall camp] and learn a whole new scheme like we did for the past three years.

“That’s one thing that’s going to help us out.”

Head coach Ron Zook agreed.

“Coach Petrino [has put] players in places they can be successful,” Zook said. “That’s the thing about coming back the second year. Everybody knows everybody. Our offense got better as last season progressed … There’s no reason to think we’re not going to pick up right where we left off.”

Following a season in which he recorded more than 2,600 total yards, dual-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse is poised to benefit even further from the familiarity with Illinois’ offensive system.

The redshirt sophomore is on the preseason watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is given to the nation’s best quarterback.

Senior Jeff Allen, who has started at left tackle the last three seasons, noted Scheelhasse’s work ethic at last month’s Big Ten media days.

“Nate has come into his own; he was one of our leaders this off-season,” Allen said. “He led by example by [watching film], doing extra work in the weight room, [and] working on improving his passing ability … He’s got a better pocket presence, and he’s making better decisions with the ball.”

Zook has gone 23-45 at Illinois, highlighted by a Rose Bowl appearance in 2007 and a Texas Bowl victory over Baylor in 2010.

Zook posted records of 2-9 and 2-10 in his first two seasons in Champaign, and he has been on the hot seat numerous times during the last six years.

If he finds himself in a precarious position again in 2011, it won’t be because of his team’s schedule.

The Illini play their first five games at Memorial Stadium, and they have eight games overall at home.

Illinois will open the season on Sept. 3 against Arkansas State.

“It’s great [to have five-straight home games]. We have great fans,” Allen said. “If we can start off with five home victories, the momentum of the season is setup perfectly for us.”

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