In many ways, senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been the face of Fighting Illini football since the beginning of his career.
After redshirting his freshman season, the Kansas City native got off to a fast start in orange and blue as he was named the team's rookie of the year, as well as earning multiple freshman All-American recognitions.
Even before Scheelhaase took over as the full-time starter for the Illini, he was already setting examples for not only his teammates, but his classmates as well. During his redshirt freshman season, Scheelhaase earned the Faculty Award for his leadership and exemplary actions in the classroom, community and field.
Some things never change.
Scheelhaase continues to be a leader for the Illini both on and off the field. Recently, Scheelhaase was named a finalist for the 2013 Wuerrfel Trophy. The official website for the Wuerrfel Trophy describes the honor as being presented "to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement."
His play on the field has been quite impressive as well. Despite the Illini having a 3-7 record heading into this weekend's game at Purdue, the Illini have remained competitive in many games. The Illini even posted 32 points against No. 25 Wisconsin and 35 against No. 3 Ohio State, largely due to Scheelhaase's efforts.
The Illini's most impressive win came in a 45-17 victory over Cincinnati at the beginning of the season. The Bearcats had received votes heading into the contest but were stymied by the Illini and Scheelhaase's 312 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in total passing yards with 2,708 and is tied with Ohio State's Braxton Miller with 17 passing touchdowns. He is currently fifth in the Big Ten in quarterback rating at 139.6.
Overall, Scheelhaase has been quite consistent this season. He has passed for more than 200 yards in all but three of his games this season (Washington, Nebraska and Michigan State).
His consistency has been one of the biggest factors in the Illini's competitiveness. With one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, the Illini have had to rely on the offense—predominantly their passing game—to carry them through the season. The Illinois defense has allowed 372 points this season, better than only Purdue (380) and Indiana (388).
Scheelhaase's demeanor in front of the cameras in quite impressive. Over the years, he has become a veteran interviewer, answering reporters' questions with ease and poise.
Although often times overlooked, a player's image can contribute greatly to that of the team. In his five years, Scheelhaase's image has been quite valuable to the Illini and will be hard to replace.
Despite an incident in which the quarterback's father was arrested and thereby banned from campus following the Illini's game against Michigan State, Scheelhaase has been a positive image and leader for the Illini.