Eddie McGee Gratified With New Opportunity

Eddie McGee (AP)

The Texas Bowl will be the last game for 13 Illini seniors. One of the saddest to see it end is receiver/quarterback Eddie McGee. While he's had a bumpy ride at times, he is one of the most loyal players on the team, one others turn to for leadership. McGee is excited about the opportunity to put on his Illini uniform one more time.

Eddie McGee was a three-year backup to Juice Williams at quarterback. He almost led the Illini to a come-from-behind victory over Missouri in his first college game after Williams got hurt. People thought the quarterback position was in sound hands based on his effort that day.

Unfortunately, McGee never found the consistency in his game needed to be the starter at that position. If anything, he tried too hard when he saw the field and tightened up. He cared a great deal about Illinois football and wanted to experience success, so he agreed to try wide receiver.

McGee started as an outside receiver all season and was brought in to run a Wildcat formation at times to take advantage of his running ability and quarterback experience. He became an important blocker for big gains by Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford and Nathan Scheelhaase.

The 6'-4", 210 pounder played in the 2008 Rose Bowl. After the Illini got off to a 5-3 start in 2010, people envisioned 9-3 and a major January 1 bowl game. That was not to be, but he isn't disheartened about going to the Texas Bowl.

"I don't think about it like that. This bowl we're going to is a great bowl. It's big-time. We'll be on a stage, the only teams playing that day. That's what I'm focusing on, not the won-loss column. It doesn't really matter because we're at a bowl."

McGee knows Baylor will be a tough challenge for the Illini, especially their offense. But he is encouraged by Bear defensive statistics that suggest the Illini can move the ball on them. Is a win over Baylor in the cards?

"Yeah, nothing's impossible. It doesn't matter who we're gonna play. Every team is gonna be good; nobody likes to be beat.

"Looking at the statistics and how many points were scored against Baylor the last three games, it put a little joy in my heart. At the end of the day, you've got to go out and perform."

The Illini slipped all over the poor grass field at Fresno State, hurting their chances of success. That won't be the case in the protected atmosphere of Reliant Stadium in Houston.

"I do like that part. My first college game was in a dome in St. Louis. So this is a good way to end."

Being the consummate team player, McGee is happy to see his younger teammates get the extra practice time available to bowl participants. It should serve as a good stepping stone for next year even though he won't be here to participate.

"Definitely. Any extra work is good work. Preparing for a bowl game is even better. You crank it up and get better every day."

The Texas Bowl result will determine whether the Illini finish with a winning record in 2010. A winning record is important to McGee.

"I think it will be huge. For me personally it will be huge, and I think it will be huge for this program too. It would be great to head the program in the right way."

McGee was one of a number of Washington, D.C., athletes who matriculated to Illinois in coach Ron Zook's tenure. That number is beginning to dwindle as Illini coaches look elsewhere for recruits. McGee appreciated having a number of his high school friends with him on campus. He's sad to see it end.

"Yeah, man. I kind of think it tailed off a bit when Locks (Mike Locksley) left. Our D.C. run was good up here."

McGee will always be a Fighting Illini. He has many great memories, and he'd like to add one more before he leaves.

"I loved every minute of it. It's a little bittersweet. I wish it would never come to an end, but everything does. So I'm gonna put my heart and soul and everything I have into this last game to make it that much better."

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