ST. LOUIS — Juice Williams can’t walk on the Illinois campus for more than a few minutes without seeing somebody wearing his jersey. Chase Daniel can’t take his girlfriend out to dinner unless he finds a table in the shadowy back of a restaurant.
Considered the keys to the success of their respective programs, Williams and Daniel have discovered the good and bad of local celebrity.
“It’s hard to get from class to class,” Daniel said. “I’ll try to wear a hat sometimes.”
Not that Daniel, or his girlfriend, are complaining about the added attention.
“It’s the best time of my life right now,” Daniel said. “I’m going to enjoy it. My girlfriend enjoys it.”
Daniel could have avoided the campus crush this season and turned pro after the 2007 season. He looked into it.
“It was out there,” Daniel said. “There had to be extreme circumstances for me to leave. It had to be first-round pick or something like that. I knew I wasn’t going to get that. I knew for a fact that I wanted to be here with my teammates for one last year.”
That means a real No. 10 slipping through the Missouri campus among all the fake No. 10s.
Daniel isn’t the only quarterback wearing a popular number. The No. 7 Williams jersey has been a hot seller at local bookstores. The quarterback knows, seeing them on campus and off.
“It’s an honor and privilege,” Williams said. “But it’s a goofy feeling at the same time. You have true fans out there.”
Who wears them?
“Girls, guys, professors, coaches from high school,” Williams said. “It really lets you know the fans support you.”
A year ago, you wouldn’t have found many Williams jerseys on campus. Had they been available.
The quarterback was coming off of a shaky freshman season. Some wondered if Williams should even be the starter, prefering a look at redshirt freshman Eddie McGee.
“You expect people to say bad things if you’re not doing so well,” Williams said. “I don’t hate those guys for that. I really thank them because it really motivated me to be in the position I’m in now.”
He is part of the marquee matchup in Saturday’s game. Though it’s really Illinois vs. Missouri, Williams vs. Daniel is getting plenty of attention.
Unless one of them sneaks in at defensive back for a play or two, they won’t actually be on the field at the same time.
“It’s kind of weird because it’s not a head to head battle,” Williams said. “You try not to make it an individual game.”
Williams is a big fan of Daniel, who contended for the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and is considered a strong candidate his senior year.
“Chase is a great player,” Williams said. “He’s very accurate with the ball. He’s going to be a great player at the next level.”
The admiration is mutual. Daniel saw Williams improve during the 2007 season.
“I was very, very impressed with him,” Daniel said. “I watched him in the Ohio State game, when he threw four touchdowns. He’s an exceptional, exceptional quarterback. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Williams came to Illinois with no ideas on how to read coverage or watch game film. He learned the hard way during a 2-10 freshman season. The payoff came in 2007, when Williams led the Illini to a 9-4 record and the school’s first Rose Bowl berth in 24 years.
He wants to take another step. Part of his preparation included a summer trip to Chandler, Ariz., where he worked with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and fellow Chicagoan Donovan McNabb.
“We got some great work in,” Williams said. “We did a lot of throwing. He did a lot of mentoring. We talked about being a quarterback.”
McNabb told Williams to play with confidence and enjoy the game.
“ ‘You can’t live or die by the game of football, just go out there and have fun and continue to have a smile on your face.’ ” Williams said. “If you look at my career in college, every time I have a smile and enjoy myself, that’s when I have the most success.”
Against the best
Here are Juice Williams’ numbers against ranked teams:
YEAR OPPONENT COMP. ATT. INT. TD YDS.
2006 No. 14 Iowa 9 32 3 1 161
2006 No. 17 Wisconsin 13 29 1 2 171
2006 No. 1 Ohio State 8 20 0 0 77
2007 No. 21 Penn State 11 24 2 1 120
2007 No. 5 Wisconsin 12 19 0 1 121
2007 No. 24 Michigan 8 14 1 1 70
2007 No. 1 Ohio State 12 22 0 4 140
2008 No. 6 Southern Cal 21 35 2 0 245
Totals 8 games 94 195 9 10 1,105