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updated: 8/22/2013 8:31 AM

O'Toole stays positive as Illini backup QB

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  • Illinois No. 2 quarterback Reilly O'Toole, a former star at Wheaton Warrenville South, says he needs to cut down on turnovers this season to help his team.

      Illinois No. 2 quarterback Reilly O'Toole, a former star at Wheaton Warrenville South, says he needs to cut down on turnovers this season to help his team.
    Associated Press/2012

  • Former Prospect High School quarterback Miles Osei will be a wide receiver for the Illini this season.

      Former Prospect High School quarterback Miles Osei will be a wide receiver for the Illini this season.
    Photo courtesy of Mark Jones/University of Illinoi

  • Former Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilley O'Toole says the 2013 Illini team has a stronger bond this season, especially in the QB ranks.

      Former Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Reilley O'Toole says the 2013 Illini team has a stronger bond this season, especially in the QB ranks.
    Photo courtesy of Mark Cowan/University of Illinoi

  • Associated Press/2012Illinois quarterback Reilly O'Toole (4) led the Illini to a nonconference win last season over Louisiana Tech, but he struggled in some Big Ten games.

      Associated Press/2012Illinois quarterback Reilly O'Toole (4) led the Illini to a nonconference win last season over Louisiana Tech, but he struggled in some Big Ten games.

  • Video: Ilini spring game highlights

 
 

Looking from the outside, it's tough to generate many positive feelings about Reilly O'Toole's spot on the Illinois football team.

The former Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback is playing behind fourth-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase and is expected to remain a backup this season.

Waiting his turn doesn't seem promising, either, since freshman Aaron Bailey from Bolingbrook and Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt are waiting in the wings.

Both of those guys arrived on campus under new coach Tim Beckman's watch, while O'Toole, a junior, was recruited by former head coach Ron Zook. Lunt is sitting out this year per NCAA transfer rules.

After two years in Champaign and a summer of training with his Illini teammates, O'Toole's outlook, however, is a bit more sunny.

"There's more than just the football aspect of being happy," he said in a phone interview. "I like being around everybody. I like the school. I'm just real happy with my teammates.

"We've grown real close, and I'm just really happy with my whole college experience so far and I'm looking forward to it being even better."

Even while rotating at quarterback for the last few seasons, the trio of O'Toole, Scheelhaase and dual-threat QB-turned slot receiver Miles Osei, a Prospect High School grad, built a close friendship. When Scheelhaase got married this summer, both O'Toole and Osei were in the wedding party.

"Yeah, we're great friends. We love each other's company," O'Toole said. "It was a real cool feeling for someone you're that close with to be really happy and make a big move in their life. It was so cool he asked me to be a part of it."

Beckman has acknowledged that Scheelhaase still has the starting job, but how secure can anyone be with the Illini coming off a 2-10 season?

Based on statistics alone, O'Toole was brilliant in 2012, completing 75 percent of his passes (65-for-87) for 564 yards in limited action. Of course, those numbers bear closer inspection.

Most of O'Toole's stats came in nonconference games against FCS foe Charleston Southern -- when he was 26-for-31 for 333 yards and 5 touchdowns -- and offensive-minded Louisiana Tech.

In the Big Ten, he saw action against Michigan and Northwestern, going 8-for-14 for 50 yards and 2 interceptions. O'Toole acknowledges that turnovers are holding him back.

"Taking care of the ball and just helping my teammates make plays," he said when asked what he needs to work on. "One thing last year I didn't do a very good job of was taking care of the ball. I think I've done a pretty good job this summer of earning the trust of the coaches."

Illinois should have a different look on offense this season. Former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit is the new offensive coordinator. Last year two different assistants shared the play-calling duties.

Cubit said this week he has been impressed with O'Toole's accuracy. In the spring game, though, O'Toole threw 4 interceptions.

"Everyone looks at the 4 turnovers, but 3 of them weren't totally his fault," Cubit said. "Guys were cutting off routes. One he overthrew and another he tried to make a play near the end of the game. He gives us big plays. The thing he has to do is give us more big plays but cut down on his interceptions."

The Illinois players are well aware that expectations are low this season. Then again, that means the Illini have only two directions to go: meet those expectations, or surprise people in Beckman's second season.

O'Toole made it clear that he plans to stick it out in Champaign and does not intend to transfer. He obviously sees a brighter future for the Illini.

"We've grown a lot as a team," O'Toole said. "I think one thing that's different from last year is we're really close off the field, and that makes us closer on the field.

"I think selfishness is at a minimum this year, which helps us out a lot."

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