NCF Nation: Stefan LeFors

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
9:40
AM ET
The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

Ranking the Big Ten quarterbacks

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
11:03
AM ET
As you might have noticed, we're all about quarterbacks today at ESPN.com, and it's time to rank the Big Ten signal callers.

This hasn't been a Big Ten strength in recent years, but things could change this fall. Quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien all have proven they can win at a high level, and Ben Chappell (Indiana) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) put up some strong numbers last fall.

The criteria are the same I used for the top 25 preseason rankings: past performance and 2010 potential. You can gripe all you want about the top four choices, but you shouldn't be surprised because all four quarterbacks were ranked in the exact same order in June/July. The Big Ten blogger is not a hypocrite. One final note: These are individual player rankings, but I consolidated the quarterback candidates at Michigan and Penn State to make it easier.

I fully expect this list to be different in early January, but here goes:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Terry GilliamTerrelle Pryor's performance in the Rose Bowl solidified his rank as the Big Ten's best quarterback.
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: How can I rank Pryor at No. 1 based on one great performance? For starters, it took place in a huge game, the Rose Bowl, against a top 10 opponent in Oregon. Plus, I think Pryor will go forward rather than backward and become a more complete quarterback this fall. He has more natural ability than anyone else on this list, and while he'll never be a model passer, he only needs to improve a little to become a lot more dangerous.

2. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: It's very close between Stanzi and Tolzien, but Stanzi's 18-4 mark as Iowa's starting quarterback sets him apart. Yes, you can point to the mistakes, and there were a lot of them, but no quarterback in the country made more big plays in the fourth quarter than No. 12. I expect a smarter and more efficient Stanzi in 2010. Plus, he's a damn fine American.

3. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin: Simply stated, he's the perfect quarterback for Wisconsin. Tolzien is smart, extremely efficient and totally aware of his role in the offense. He executes the play-action well and can thread the needle when he needs to. Tolzien still needs to prove himself against the Big Ten's best defenses, but I expect a very strong senior season from him.

4. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Take away a few late-game mistakes and a poor second half against Penn State, and Cousins turned in a very strong season as a first-year starter. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is strong (19-9), and he'll only get better with more experience. Plus, he has an excellent group of receivers and tight ends at his disposal this fall.

5. Ben Chappell, Indiana: Chappell is the Big Ten's leading returning passer (2,941 yards in 2009), and he ranks second in completion percentage (62.6) among returning starters. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and make better throws in the red zone, but all that should come this fall. Chappell has some great receivers to work with, namely Tandon Doss, but would really benefit from a consistent run game.

6. Adam Weber, Minnesota: Some Gophers fans have given up on Weber after a poor junior season, but I still have faith in No. 8, who happens to be a record holder at the U. It hasn't been easy with three offensive coordinators in as many seasons, and the system last year would have been tough for any quarterback to run. Weber still has a ton of talent, but he needs to regain the confidence we saw for most of 2008, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also needs to prove himself without star receiver Eric Decker.

7. Robert Marve, Purdue: Marve clearly doesn't grade high in past performance after struggling at Miami in 2008, but his potential this fall is very high. He'll benefit from working in Purdue's spread offense, and he'll have no shortage of targets in Keith Smith, Justin Siller, Cortez Smith and others. The ability always has been there with Marve, and we'll start to see results this fall.

8. Tate Forcier/Denard Robinson, Michigan: No starter has been named, and while head coach Rich Rodriguez has a bit of evidence from 2009, he'll be selecting a No. 1 quarterback based on who he believes has greater potential in 2010. Both players can run, although Robinson is more explosive on the move. Forcier was far and away the better passer in 2009, but he struggled to make plays when he wasn't freelancing. Robinson should be a better passer this fall.

9. Dan Persa, Northwestern: This isn't a knock against Persa, who has done everything right to prepare himself for this moment. I just need to see more from him in game situations, especially if Northwestern relies on him as much as it did Mike Kafka in 2009. Persa very well could be the most ideal fit for Northwestern's spread offense since Zak Kustok.

10. Kevin Newsome/Matt McGloin/Paul Jones/Robert Bolden, Penn State: The competition remains wide open, and the group has virtually no game experience aside from Newsome. Talent shouldn't be a problem, as Newsome, Jones and Bolden all were highly-touted recruits, while McGloin, a former walk-on, has made significant strides in State College. Who can handle the pressure of quarterbacking in the Big Ten? We'll find out soon.

11. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois: Again, not a knock against Scheelhaase, but his past performance is confined to practices and scrimmages. He's one of the most mature redshirt freshmen I've covered, but he's obviously got to prove himself in the game spotlight. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino sees shades of Stefan LeFors in Scheelhaase. If that's the case, he'll soar up this list.
(Note: this is the second in an occasional series looking at former stars at Big East schools and where they are now. To suggest a player for a future story, e-mail me at this link.)

Stefan LeFors will always love Louisville for giving him a chance to compete at the major college level. So when LeFors decided to call it quits in his professional playing career, it only seemed natural for him to return to the school.

[+] EnlargeStefan Lefors
Brett Hansbauer/US PresswireFormer Louisville QB Stefan LeFors has returned to the university to work as an academic specialist in the athletic department.
The 2004 Conference USA player of the year began working as an academic specialist in the Cardinals' athletic department on June 1. He'll tutor football players and other athletes, as well as helping to coordinate their schedules and monitor their academic progress. LeFors, whose parents are both deaf, will also teach sign language to interested students.

"Being around the game and being around the athletes appealed to me," he said. "This is where they gave me a shot coming out of high school, and I'll be eternally grateful for that."

Louisville was the only FBS program to offer LeFors a scholarship, and the 6-foot quarterback made that look like a wise decision. He became the starter in 2003 and led the team to a 9-4 record. In 2004, the Cardinals went 11-1 and won the Liberty Bowl as LeFors completed 73.5 percent of his passes, the second highest total in NCAA history. His ability to both throw and run -- and seemingly always make the right decision -- powered Bobby Petrino's high-flying offense.

LeFors was drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers and spent one year there as a backup. He was then released and headed to the Canadian Football League. He played two years with Edmonton, starting the final five games of the 2007 season, and won the starting job last season at Winnipeg before injuring his shoulder in the third game.

LeFors enjoyed the CFL, though the climate certainly forced an adjustment for a kid from Louisiana.

"It was nice, though, because in fall camp and two-a-days you're always worried about the heat and the blistering humidity," he said. "All three of my years up there, I was always in a sweatshirt and long pants in camp, trying to stay warm."

After helping Louisville reach some of the program's highest achievements, LeFors winced as his alma mater struggled the past three years, failing to reach a bowl game under Steve Kragthorpe.

"We'd be in the locker room hanging out, and a lot of guys would be talking about their schools," he said. "Every time I'd throw out Louisville, they'd think of the current team and be like, 'Ah, yeah, you guys are nothing.' I'd try to tell them, 'No, look at what we did in 2004, 2005, 2006.'

"So that part was really disappointing. But hopefully we'll get this thing back on track and turn this thing around."

LeFors will now be part of the athletic department as the Cardinals try to rebuild under new coach Charlie Strong. He may pursue some media opportunities and might even one day enter coaching himself.

"I'm just getting my foot in the door to see what I like," LeFors said. "Being an athletic director would be a dream, and coaching would be fun as well. I always enjoyed the chess match part of the game. But right now, my eyes are open to everything."
No one who spent time around the Illinois Fighting Illini this spring will be surprised by today's announcement that Nathan Scheelhaase will enter the season as the team's starting quarterback.

Scheelhaase clearly separated himself from teammates Jacob Charest and Chandler Whitmer during spring ball. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino gushed about the redshirt freshman when we visited in late April. All that remained was an official announcement, which came a day after head coach Ron Zook returned from his USO tour to visit troops.
“Following spring ball, our coaching staff had some time to review the quarterback situation and felt Nathan proved himself as a leader both on and off the field,” Zook said in a statement. “He showed the ability to run coach Petrino’s offense at a high level, and we thought it was important to establish Nathan as a team leader entering summer workouts."

There was really no need for Illinois to wait any longer, especially as it enters a pivotal season where roles need to be defined as quickly as possible. Scheelhaase has no game experience and will endure some growing pains this fall, but he brings a leader's mentality and a good skill set to the table.

I have questions about his passing ability and durability -- Scheelhaase is listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, but that seems a bit generous -- but his attitude, athleticism and maturity are immediately recognizable and impressive. Not every quarterback who runs Petrino's offense needs to look like Ryan Mallett, and the folks at Illinois hope Scheelhaase can eventually resemble former Louisville star Stefan LeFors.
"He's a lot like Stefan," Petrino said. "Very similar players. He's faster than Stefan was, and he's a redshirt freshman. Stefan didn't play until his redshirt junior year. You just see things they do, the way [Scheelhaase] moves around on the play-action, a lot of the plays he does well were plays that Stefan does well, so a lot of that stuff really reminds you of him."

Again, don't expect mistake-free football from Scheelhaase, who threw two interceptions and took three sacks in Illinois' spring game. When you have a totally new offense and a quarterback with no game experience, there will be some bumps along the way. Illinois will need the guys around Scheelhaase, namely running back Mikel LeShoure, to step up their play.

Time is of the essence for an Illinois team and a coaching staff that must win in 2010, so there was no need to delay this decision any longer.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase first learned about Stefan LeFors in the same way most of us did.

When LeFors blew up as Louisville's quarterback and became a household name in 2004, Scheelhaase, then a middle schooler in Kansas City, followed his story.

"His senior year, ESPN did a special on him," Scheelhaase said. "He spoke sign language because his parents were deaf. I watched that and then I watched this guy and he's a little, 5-[foot-]10 nothing, 180, 185 pounds, and I think they were the No. 1 offense in the country that year."

Scheelhaase is once again watching LeFors, but for very different reasons. Illinois' offense is now under the direction of coordinator Paul Petrino, who served as Louisville's offensive coordinator during LeFors' record-setting run.

Petrino's offense can accommodate different types of quarterbacks -- Ryan Mallett, an NFL style, rifle-armed, drop-back passer, excelled in the system last season at Arkansas -- but it's pretty easy to identify the paradigm for Scheelhaase, an elite athlete who, like LeFors, won't scare anyone with his size.

"He's a lot like Stefan," Petrino said. "Very similar players. He's faster than Stefan was, and he's a redshirt freshman. Stefan didn't play until his redshirt junior year. You just see things they do, the way [Scheelhaase] moves around on the play-action, a lot of the plays he does well were plays that Stefan does well, so a lot of that stuff really reminds you of him."

It's high praise for Scheelhaase, but Petrino has high expectations for the quarterback in 2010. Although Illinois hasn't formally named a starting quarterback -- Scheelhaase competed with Jacob Charest and Chandler Whitmer throughout spring practice -- it's fairly obvious that Scheelhaase is the man to beat entering the summer.

The 6-3, 195-pound redshirt freshman took most of the reps with the first-team offense this spring, and made several big plays with both his arm and his feet in four scrimmages.

"Nathan is a fiery guy; he's a really good leader," Petrino said. "He's just a great competitor, and he's going to do whatever it takes to win. He does a real good job running with the ball, making plays. He's worked hard to understand the passing game. He's got a nice, quick release, he knows where he's going with the ball and he's getting more accurate every day.

"If he can do that, we'll be in great shape."

Head coach Ron Zook saw the same fire from Scheelhaase (pronounced SHEEL-house) on the scout team last year, as the true freshman never backed down from the first-team defense. Senior wide receiver Jarred Fayson described Scheelhaase as "a bit before his time" in how he carries himself and his approach to the game.

"A competitive attitude is good to have every day, whether you're a fourth-year starter or you're just trying to get on the field for the first time," Scheelhaase said. "You want yourself to be perfect when you're doing things like that. You don't want to have a bad play, have a bad practice or anything because you want to compete with yourself, compete with others around you and on a bigger level, you want to be better than your opponents."

He admitted having "first-day jitters" at the start of spring ball, well aware of what was at stake following the graduation of Juice Williams, a four-year starter at quarterback. Scheelhaase knows he still must absorb more of Petrino's offense, but he built confidence throughout the spring and brings some versatility to the position.

And while he never shies away from competitive situations, he also doesn't get weighed down by Illinois' unsettled situation at quarterback.

"You're running with blinders on," he said.

And down the road, he hopes to catch up with LeFors.

"He's a fun guy to watch," Scheelhaase said. "He ran their offense well, ran it with confidence. If I can be in his ballpark, if anybody can be in his ballpark, it would be great because he was a great college quarterback."

When Vic Koenning sent his seventh-grade son off to a new school in Illinois, he talked about the importance of going in with a clean slate.

What happened in the past didn't matter, he said. This was a fresh start.

When Koenning meets with Illinois' players on the field in late March, he'll convey the same message. Every one of the Illini defenders will get a chance to prove himself.

Koenning finally got to focus on football this week after spending most of his time recruiting since he was hired as defensive coordinator in mid December. But he isn't poring over tape from the 2009 season. He doesn't want to enter spring practice with preconceived judgments.

"It's a clean slate for them," Koenning said. "Everyone will have opportunities."

Koenning also realizes Illinois has no time for growing pains.

"We've got to be a lot better than 91st," he said, referring to Illinois' national ranking for total defense in 2009.

Paul Petrino has taken a slightly different approach with Illinois' offense. The team's new coordinator has had video cutups made of every returning player, as he tries to figure who fits where in his system.

Petrino expects to be very multiple on offense, implementing the scheme that has worked successfully for his older brother Bobby at both Louisville and Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeJacob Charest
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJacob Charest threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns last season.
He's very pleased with Illinois' returning talent at running back with Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, who combined for 1,322 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season. Petrino also remembers recruiting running back Justin Green while he was at Arkansas.

"I really like what we've got at running back," he said. "But it always comes down to the quarterback position, and we'll build things around what those guys do best."

The competition is wide open at quarterback entering the spring, as Illinois must replace four-year starter Juice Williams. Jacob Charest and Eddie McGee both have game experience, while Nathan Scheelhaase and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer also will be in the mix.

Petrino pointed out that his offense can adapt to the quarterback's strengths, whether it's a dual threat signal-caller like former Louisville star Stefan LeFors or a true drop-back passer like Arkansas standout Ryan Mallett. Quite possibly the biggest challenge for Petrino and his staff will be determining how much of the system can be installed, and how fast.

"We're going to install as much as they can handle," he said. "We'll install for seven straight days during the spring, and then we'll go back and let them review it. When we get to two-a-days in August, we'll do more install."

Both Koenning and Petrino understood the challenge they took on by accepting their new jobs. Illinois has endured consecutive losing seasons and support for head coach Ron Zook and the program is fading.

Koenning sees some similarities between Illinois and Clemson, where he worked from 2005-08.

"They were always after [head coach Tommy Bowden] every year down there," he said.

Last week, Zook referenced the negative recruiting tactics Illinois faced this year, and Koenning said he had never seen it so bad before.

"It was crazy," he said. "I'm a member of the American Football Coaches Association, and they talk about avoiding negative recruiting, but we saw plenty this year."

Koenning doesn't want to create a make-or-break attitude inside the program for 2010, but he knows his players will have a chip on their shoulders this fall. Petrino sees the same thing on the offensive side.

"You always have something that you want to prove," Petrino said. "The biggest thing I've talked to the offensive guys about is, 'Every time we take the field, let's believe we're going to go score.' It's always us against the world. I've never been one of those guys who's buddy-buddy with the people you play against anyway. So let's go get after it."

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