Illini find a place for Prospect's Osei
Former Prospect High School quarterback Miles Osei will open the seasons as a wide receiver for the Illini on Saturday, and it's possible he'll see some time as a kick returner.
Photo courtesy of Mark Jones/University of Illinoi
Even while piling up nearly 7,000 yards of total offense during two varsity seasons at Prospect High School, many colleges wondered whether Miles Osei was big enough to play quarterback at the highest level.
So it's no wonder Osei's career at Illinois has amounted to a four-year experiment.
He started off returning punts and kickoffs, but also got some reps behind center, even though he was the third-string signalcaller. The old and new coaches, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman, both tried Osei as a chance-of-pace, option-style quarterback.
Midway through last season, the Illini tried Osei at receiver and that appears to be where he'll stay. The 6-foot senior will line up at slot receiver on Saturday in Champaign when the Illini open the season against Southern Illinois.
"The more I'm repping it, the better I feel and the more comfortable I feel," Osei said after a recent practice. "I think it's a fairly smooth transition."
One obvious question is why didn't this happen years ago? The Illini have been hurting for offensive weapons, so why relegate Osei to limited action as a third-string QB?
The answer isn't clear. But when Beckman's staff moved in last year, Osei had an impressive fall camp at quarterback. Co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty suggested Osei had the most live arm of the team's top three QBs and was an underrated passer.
"I'm just going where the coaches want me, and where they think I can be most effective and most efficient for the team," Osei said. "It was a coaching decision. I've just got to roll with it. I'm happy to help the team in whatever position they play me. They felt like I need to be at receiver this season permanently, so that's what I'm going to do."
Beatty has since left the program, and former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit will try to improve an offense that ranked 119th in the country in total yards and 107th in passing yards.
Looking at Northwestern and the success it's had with Kain Colter — an undersized, running quarterback — it's easy to wonder if Illinois should have given Osei more of a chance.
Osei originally committed to Northern Illinois in December of his senior year at Prospect. He changed his mind about a month later when the Illini made an offer. If he'd stuck with NIU, Osei still might have become a receiver since he would have been competing with Jordan Lynch, who set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback last season and finished seventh in the Heisman voting.
All things considered, Osei is glad he's getting a chance to focus on a single position, though he might be back in a kick return role this fall.
"You're trying to master one position and then you get moved. At the beginning, I was really out of my comfort zone," he said.
"I feel like playing quarterback has helped me learn receiver a lot quicker — knowing where receivers have to be, finding open zones and knowing pre-snap where the defense is going to be. Having a relationship with the quarterbacks and other receivers has been good."
Osei certainly has strong rapport with fourth-year starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase. Over the summer, Osei was best man at Scheelhaase's wedding. They have been friends since Osei's official visit to Illinois, when Scheelhaase was his host.
No one is expecting a banner season from the Illini, coming off a 2-10 campaign last fall, but Osei believes a strong camaraderie among the players can push the program forward.
"In the winter, we kind of established what our standard is, which is working as hard as you could," he said. "If anyone strays from that standard, we've done a good job of getting them on board or getting them out. Everyone else's expectations are low, but I think ours are fairly high."
Eight starters return on offense and the Illini are hoping to get a boost from sixth-year tackle Corey Lewis, who was sidelined for more than two years because of three ACL tears and five knee surgeries.
On defense, only four starters return, but that includes three of the team's top five tacklers in linebacker Mason Monheim, safety Earnest Thomas III and linebacker Jonathan Brown, whose season was cut short by a shoulder injury last fall.
"For the last nine months, there's been a belief and a sense of urgency to perform as a family, perform as a team," Beckman said. "Seeing what they did this summer, I was proud of the way they got better, not just as football players, but we got better as a team."
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