CHAMPAIGN - He could be the most frustrated, bitter man on the Illinois football team. He could be the exceptional athlete who feels trapped on the bench, his college career ticking past unfulfilled. He could resent everyone from coaches to teammates.

And yet Eddie McGee has one of the most upbeat, team-first attitudes on the Illini team, a trait his teammates praise him for, an attitude head coach Ron Zook uses as an example of what a leader McGee has become.

"Eddie wants to win," Zook said. "Whatever you need from him, he'll give it to you. He's a great competitor, a guy who can help this football team in a lot of ways."

There still are those who think he could help this team by being its starting quarterback. He has shown glimpses of ability - speed, strong arm, explosive athletic ability - during brief backup duty while filling in for starter Juice Williams.

But mostly, the junior from Washington, D.C., has been a seldom-used backup, stuck in that role because the durable Williams gets nearly all of the snaps.

Last year, McGee got into five games and completed four of nine passes. He carried the ball 14 times and even saw action as a backup receiver, catching five balls in that capacity.

Doesn't he get frustrated watching most of the games from the sideline?

"My attitude is all about winning," McGee said. "Whatever the coaches say, that's what I do. We have a really good quarterback and I root for him to win. I try not to worry about individual goals. If we win, all of that other stuff will take care of itself."

Among McGee's biggest fans is Williams, who counts McGee as a close friend.

"Eddie could be a star, too," Williams said. "Eddie could lead this team to greatness. It's kind of unfortunate we both play the same position. We can't both be out there at the same time.

"Eddie has a lot to do with the success I've had. I take my hat off to him. It would be difficult to take the role he has but how he responds to it is great. He is not selfish at all. He just wants us to win."

Sure, McGee wants to play. So he prepares each week as though he will, even if the opportunity never arises. And with talent stacked deep at wide receiver, McGee said he isn't sure if he'll get any playing time at another offensive position.

"We're only three practices into it and so far I haven't worked out at wide receiver," he said.

The bigger question centers on next season.

This is the final year for Williams, a senior. Illinois will have a new quarterback next year. Will it be McGee, for a one-year run? Or will the job go to a younger prospect like Jacob Charest or freshman Nathan Scheelhaase?

"That's up to the coaches," McGee said. "They make those decisions."

Spoken like the perfect soldier.

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