As I walked through the parking lot at Vincent P. Dasta Stadium for my first Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.)
football game, grills were ablaze and the undeniable aroma of burgers and brats infiltrated the air surrounding Hawklet and Blue Springs South fans as they discussed the upcoming battle between two of Missouri's finest prep gridiron programs annually.
The Jaguars walloped Rockhurst 27-7 the previous year, but the Hawklets were young then. Now they were ready for a little payback with junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leading the way.
Shortly after kickoff, I realized I was in for an even bigger treat than the barbecue I had consumed during those pregame festivities. Oh, those burgers and brats! Nobody does tailgating like Hawklet fans, and nobody served up big play ability like Scheelhaase did that Friday night in 2007.
The 6-foot-3, 193-pound signal caller used both his arm and legs to make crucial plays in dramatic fashion as the Hawklets popped out to a 27-0 first half advantage before holding on to win 27-21.
The present day Illinois starting quarterback didn't put up eye-popping numbers that evening. He didn't have to. But he did bring fans from both sides of the stadium to their feet while making plays.
On the game's opening drive, for example, the fleet-footed Scheelhaase displayed his game-breaking ability when he faked a handoff and then faked a pitch before turning upfield and scoring from 15-yards out. During the run, Scheelhaase side-stepped several would-be tacklers before sprinting to the end zone.
On Rockhurst's second possession, Scheelhaase scrambled to his left and hit fellow junior Keith Langtry in stride for a 64-yard score against a tough Jaguar defense.
Everything Scheelhaase did looked easy. He is sharp mentally and he knows the game better than the back of his hand. He earned Missouri Class 6 First-Team All-State honors in 2007 and 2008.
Following his junior season at Rockhurst, Scheelhaase was named the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and he won yet another Simone Award for the Hawklets' already full trophy case.
Through one and a half seasons as a starter at Illinois, Scheelhaase has rushed and thrown for a combined 4,630 yards and has had his hand in on 37 touchdowns. He was tabbed the Big 10 Freshman of the Week six times a year ago and has the Illini off to a 6-3 start in 2011.
Picking Scheelhaase over Gardner-Edgerton's Bubba Starling was a difficult choice to say the least. Former Liberty (Mo.) standout receiver Marcus Lucas and St. Edward (Neb.) and New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Shanle were also considered.