Sean McGushin was looking for a good reason to give football another shot.
An invitation to walk on as a quarterback for the University of Illinois certainly qualified.
McGushin’s improbable, whirlwind journey of beginning his senior football season at St. Charles North as the second-stringer and ending the school year poised to become a Big Ten quarterback ended Friday when he registered for summer classes at Illinois.
McGushin originally planned to attend Division I Bellarmine University (Ky.) on a lacrosse scholarship before a change of heart this spring. Instead, he will walk on for the Illini.
“When it came down to deciding between U of I and Bellarmine I lost some sleep for the two weeks when I was trying to decide,” McGushin said. “I was trying to figure out more the pluses and minuses of the schools.
“I went to so many recruiting camps for lacrosse over the last four summers, and all the speeches they give you is to choose the school for the school, and not for the sport.
“When it came down to it, I realized I kind of picked Bellarmine more for the sport than Bellarmine itself.”
Then there were those visions of stepping into the Big House and the Horseshoe, in uniform, intoxicating imagery for a young football player – even one who grew up rooting for Notre Dame. The product of an Irish-Catholic upbringing, McGushin lived in South Bend. Ind., as a small child.
“Growing up I wasn’t a huge Illinois fan,” McGushin said. “More of when I got into high school I started rooting for them more for the home state pride kind of thing.”
Safe to say McGushin’s Illini pride is rising steadily these days.
Illinois was one of several schools to which the family sent out highlights of McGushin’s senior season with the North Stars.
McGushin had made his football impact with North mostly at tight end as a junior, when Nick Neari was North’s starting quarterback. Neari was again the starter last fall but a Week 2 injury opened the door for McGushin.
It didn’t take long for the strong-armed 6-foot-3, 205-pounder to show he deserved the job full-time. He finished with more than 1,000 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes (compared to five interceptions) and closed the season on a strong note in North’s 24-21 playoff loss to Crystal Lake South.
But as the North Stars turned in their gear, McGushin believed his growth as a quarterback was just beginning.
Given his limited time playing quarterback, McGushin said there is “only room for improvement, and hopefully a lot of improvement.” While recognizing his chances for playing time would be much better at a smaller school, McGushin said nothing short of a big-school opportunity would have swayed him to trade lacrosse for football.
He will redshirt this season, and understands chances for anything beyond mop-up playing time are minimal, even as an upperclassman.
“I’m going in expecting nothing more than the experience but working hard enough and training for wanting more than that,” McGushin said.
On Sunday, McGushin departs for Champaign to begin summer classes and workouts with the football team. Leaving home two months ahead of schedule to take his place among the Illini has the butterflies swirling, McGushin acknowledges.
“Throwing passes with Juice Williams in a week is something I never thought I’d say,” McGushin said.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.