Cary Grove's Sheehan excited about opportunity at Illinois

  • Cary-Grove quarterback Jameson Sheehan heads for the end zone to score a touchdown past Jacobs' Justin Ceisel last fall. Sheehan recently accepted a preferred walk-on offer at the University of Illinois.

    Cary-Grove quarterback Jameson Sheehan heads for the end zone to score a touchdown past Jacobs' Justin Ceisel last fall. Sheehan recently accepted a preferred walk-on offer at the University of Illinois. Matthew Apgar/

Updated 2/8/2022 6:32 AM

Cary-Grove quarterback Jameson Sheehan welcomes challenges, as was evident Nov. 27 when he directed the Trojans' offense in a scintillating 37-36 victory over powerful East St. Louis for the Class 6A state championship.

The result was considered an upset; the game was considered one of the greatest ever played in state history.


Sheehan now is preparing for his next huge test as a preferred walk-on with Illinois' football team. He will do so going from C-G's run-oriented triple-option to taking shotgun snaps in an attack geared more toward passing.

"I really like that challenge. You have to work your way up, and that's one of my best traits, working silently and working hard," Sheehan said. "I'm willing to do that. It's kind of like high school where you have to work your way up the chain. Illinois is such a great opportunity for me. I can get out of my comfort zone and see what I'm able to accomplish."

While college coaches did not see a lot of Sheehan throwing at C-G, they saw his moxie, his toughness, his leadership and his decision-making while running the option.

"You try to convey that with college coaches," Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said. "It's one of those things you can't measure. It's not a 40 [yard dash] time or a height or weight. He has kind of that 'It' factor that comes with the position. We're really excited to see what he can do."

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There will be questions with Sheehan on how he adapts to a more complicated passing game. When C-G threw the ball, Sheehan was extremely proficient, completing 64.9% of his passes for 933 yards and 13 touchdowns, with only one interception.

Sheehan continues to work with Jeff Christensen's Throw It Deep Quarterback and Receiver Training Academy. Sheehan had an offer from NCAA Division I The Citadel, a military school in Charleston, South Carolina, that runs the option, and from D-II Winona State.

Sheehan visited Illinois with his parents, John and Paula, in late January and decided that would be his school. He appreciated what head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. had to say.

"Hearing what the coaches said there and how coach B talked and how he treated his players, I felt like that was home for me," Sheehan said. "It was a family feel. It just felt great. It just felt right talking to these coaches. It just felt like home for me.


"It'll be great. I think back to learning the option with coach Seaburg. It was a new offense. As well as I picked that up, I feel like it will be the same thing with the offense coach Lunney put in. I feel like I have to break it down and get an understanding of it."

Seaburg said there will be some similarities since Illinois' offense will have some option concepts.

"He's going to receive the ball from a shotgun snap," Seaburg said. "I think it's a bigger adjustment going from shotgun to under center. I don't foresee that being a learning curve at all.

"There's a lot of similarities with what college programs are doing and what we're doing. Some of the RPOs they do, post-snap, will be different. He's been working with Throw It Deep a lot, and I'm really confident he's going to grow to the offense and do a great job."

In 2017, C-G graduate Tyler Pennington walked on at Arkansas, where Bielema was then coach. When Bielema was fired, Pennington transferred to Illinois State. Sheehan communicated with Pennington, who told him he enjoyed being a part of Bielema's program.

Bielema came to Illinois in December 2020 and quickly went about establishing relations with high school teams in the state. He hired former Metamora coach Pat Ryan as a high school liaison to communicate with state coaches.

Illinois offensive line coach Bart Miller visited in the spring, when C-G went 4-0 and lost two of its games to COVID-19 quarantine. Miller returned to C-G the week of the third round of playoffs and made Sheehan the preferred walk-on offer at that point. Preferred walk-ons usually are guaranteed roster spots with the understanding they can earn scholarships when they contribute more to the team.

"He can run and throw, he's proven that he can do both in terms of being extremely accurate at throwing the ball and having the toughness to run the football," Seaburg said. "Where the differences will be are reading coverages and doing some other things that different coaches ask him to do. The one constant with Jame-o is he's fiercely competitive, he's a team-first guy 100% and he's not going to go to Illinois thinking, 'I'm on the roster.' He's going there to compete to play."

Sheehan plans on working with Throw It Deep and working out hard until he graduates. He will head to Champaign on June 13, take some summer classes and work out with the team. He is not playing baseball this spring.

"I'm really trying to get into the best shape I can," said Sheehan, who is 6-foot-3 and now weighs 198 pounds. "With all those college workouts I want to be in the best shape I can, I'm working out almost every day. And put on a little more weight."

Seaburg says Sheehan is just a player who looks the part, on the field and off.

"In the championship game he was against some of the best talent, at some spots, in the country," Seaburg said. "He competed right there and then against Power-5 athletes that East St. Louis has. He has the athleticism to do it. He has the build. When you come into our school and walk around the hallways, there's only a handful of guys who you say, 'That guy's a Division I frame.'"

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