CHAMPAIGN — You might remember the leaping touchdown over Northern Illinois safety Tracy Wilson.
The high-five offered up to back judge Mike Brown at Camp Randall that was never returned.
The eye-black crosses.
Outplaying Robert Griffin III.
Losing 20 straight Big Ten games.
The arrest of his father.
The underthrown interceptions.
The juke moves that never materialized into significant yards.
However one wants to look at Nathan Scheelhaase’s career, they have many options.
His teammates, of course, know Scheelhaase beyond just the numbers he has compiled.
Like the time his biking skills failed him last school year.
“We got a text from Nate that said, ‘You won’t guess what happened,’ ” backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole said with a laugh. “It was a little wet outside and he fell out by the Quad, so there was a lot of people there. He slid under a car and he texted us saying, ‘All these people are laughing and looking at me like, ‘Is that the quarterback?’ I was just dying laughing picturing Nate sliding under a car. It turned out fine, so it was obviously more funny.”
His calm, composed demeanor has come across in the hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews Scheelhaase has handled during his college career. Handled like a pro.
“I feel like it’s been something I’ve always enjoyed,” Scheelhaase said. “There would be four years where you guys would really care what I have to say. I’m always going to try and take full advantage of it and take it as a humbling experience I will find joy in. I know a lot of times players get annoyed with having to do media and things like that, but I knew, at most, that it would be four years where I would get my thoughts out there. After that, I guarantee you nobody will care about what a defense was doing on a Saturday or how things were going in my life or how my friend was practicing that week. For these four years, you guys do care, so I might as well be able to give you something to write about.”
Scheelhaase has said he’ll try to take his football-playing career as far as he can. He has two games left at Illinois. Once the season ends in seven days, it’s doubtful he’ll throw a football in the NFL. He’ll likely go through Illinois’ pro day in the spring, hoping to catch the eye of an NFL team wanting to utilize him.
First-year UI offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has certainly utilized him this fall. Scheelhaase has 2,708 passing yards while completing 65.4 percent of his passes (232 of 355) for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has the fewest rushing yards of any of his four seasons (197) but has shown the dual-threat capabilities recently that became his forte his first two seasons.
“I really think he’s hanging in the pocket well,” Cubit said. “There were some shots he took (against Ohio State). I showed the clip the other day on the tipped interception he threw. He got hit, got knocked down, was flat on his face, got back up and almost made the tackle. He’s a tough guy. I’m just blessed to be coaching a kid like that. They don’t get any better than that. I don’t know what they will remember about him, but what they should remember him for is that kid gave everything he’s got for Illinois.”
Scheelhaase started his 47th game at Purdue, the most by an Illinois quarterback. If Illinois coach Tim Beckman starts him against Northwestern, he’ll tie the program record for most career starts shared by offensive linemen Ryan McDonald and Tim Simpson.
He only needs 4 yards of offense to become the 10th player in Big Ten history to reach 10,000 yards in a career. A big-number game against Northwestern could make Scheelhaase the program’s career leader in total offense.
“I know how I’m going to remember him, and this program will remember him as one of the top quarterbacks that’s played at a very, very good quarterback university,” Beckman said. “I interviewed every one of the position coaches that were already here when I got the job, and everyone brought up the importance of Nate to the program and the success of the program.”
Steve Hull will leave Illinois with the distinction of being the only teammate to live with Scheelhaase. The two shared a dorm room on the fourth floor at Taft-Van Doren their freshman year. Scheelhaase lived by himself every other year at Illinois until this school year. He now resides with his wife, Morgan, in an off-campus Champaign apartment.
“It was a struggle in those dorms because we didn’t have any heat or any air conditioning,” Hull said. “It was miserable, but he was real easy to get along with. We were a little bit messy at times, but it was a good time.”
Hull and Scheelhaase met in the recruiting lounge at Memorial Stadium when both were in high school.
“I didn’t really know what to expect because he had a lot of hype coming in because he was a big recruit,” Hull said. “I thought he was going to be the type of guy that had his nose in the air, but when I met him, he was real down to earth and real cool.”
Zane Petty didn’t know what to expect, either, upon meeting Scheelhaase. The junior college transfer enrolled at Illinois in January and only knew Scheelhaase from what he saw watching Illinois games on TV.
“He was always a guy that, even when I was not doing anything and had my arm in a sling, still made you feel like part of the team,” Illinois’ starting free safety said. “Coming into a program like this from a junior college where you know, ‘Oh, that’s Nathan Scheelhaase,’ and then he’s helping you, that was nice.”
O’Toole said Scheelhaase has dealt with the criticism, the losses and everything else with class.
“Fans probably don’t know him personally, and when you don’t do well, people don’t like you,” O’Toole said. “When you do well, they love you. You never know when he has a good game or a bad game. He’s just even-keeled. He’ll go down as a guy that left his heart out on the field every single play.”
The end is near for one of the most well-known Illinois quarterbacks. One of the most distinguished. One of the most chastised. One of the most publicized. And one of the most respected.
He realizes his time at Illinois is almost up. Hearing some assistants talk to him recently about recruits in the Class of 2017 — Scheelhaase was a member of the Class of 2009 — made the 23-year-old feel his age.
“I’ve grown up a whole lot just with my perspective and the way I see things,” Scheelhaase said. “I go back to how I thought about things my freshman year, and it was such a narrow focus. I think my highs were really high, and my lows were really low. Leadership is easy when things are going well for you, but I’ve really learned to lead in tough situations, and that’s something that not everybody likes to do. That’s where I’ve seen a lot of growth.”