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Nathan Scheelhaase emerging as one of CFB’s top young coaches

As soon as quarterback Nate Scheelhaase exhausted his eligibility at Illinois back in 2013, where he capped his career among the school’s leaders in nearly every passing category, then-head coach Tim Beckman offered him a job. Already married, Scheelhaase didn’t think the life of a coach was for him. 

Seeing the revolving door of coaches go through the program while he was a player, which in his mind crippled the Illini’s potential, soured him on the profession at that time.

Scheelhaase’s mind was on what he would do when the scholarship checks stopped arriving for rent. So he reached out to the Illini alumni group and told them he wanted to get a “sweet job” in Chicago. Next thing he knew, he was in a sharp suit on the interview circuit in the Windy City, bouncing building to building, talking business and marketing with fellow Illinois grads. 

That seemed worse than coaching.

“I remember getting in the car when my wife picked me up and I said, ‘That ain’t it, that’s not what I’m looking for,'” Scheelhaase told 247Sports this week. 

It turned out coaching was indeed what Scheelhaase was looking for. The 29-year-old Iowa State receivers coach and ace recruiter finds himself on 247Sports’ 30Under30 list for the second straight season, his status as one of college football’s top rising coaches secured. 

Back to that car ride with his wife, Morgan. Scheelhaase told her he really wanted an opportunity where he could make an impact on young people. Not too long after, he landed an opportunity to do just that as a high school pastor at a church in Louisville. It changed how he felt about coaching. 

“Within that time in Louisville, I spent a lot of time with young men and helping them grow as men in their faith,” Scheelhaase said. “And halfway through the year I thought maybe this coaching thing is the best way to impact young men.”

With that, Scheelhaase started looking for high school jobs in his native Kansas City, where he was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year out of powerhouse Rockhurst High back in 2008. Nothing came to fruition. Thankfully Beckman’s offer still stood and Scheelhaase headed back to Champaign as the assistant director of football operations. He wasn’t in that role very long. Beckman was fired one week before the 2015 season amid allegations of influencing medical decisions and pressuring players to play injured. Because of the coaching change, Scheelhaase was thrusted into an on-field role in a pinch coaching running backs. That was a position room highlighted by his former teammate Josh Ferguson, who he was handing the ball less than two years prior.

“I went from six months before trying to get a job at a high school to six months later getting ready for a game week as a running backs coach,” Scheelhaase said. “I was thrown into the fire, what a blessing that was with that first year and it really let me know I really love this and I enjoy it and I couldn’t see myself do anything else at this point.”

After three years at his alma mater, Scheelhaase joined Matt Campbell’s staff at Iowa State in 2018, first as a running backs coach, helping the Cyclones win the most Big 12 games in school history. Scheelhaase moved to receivers prior to the 2019 season and was part of Iowa State’s offense that went on to set numerous school records that fall, including total offense (444.3), touchdowns (53) and yards per play (6.45), as the Cyclones made their third-straight bowl game.

Big recruiting wins for Scheelhaase along the way include four-star running backs Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock. Scheelhaase should soon get his shot as an offensive coordinator with the sky the limit beyond.

“I wasn’t the biggest quarterback, didn’t have the strongest arm, but I always felt mentally I can really understand the game and what was going on on the field,” Scheelhaase explained. “Playing at Illinois, dealing with all these different offensive systems and different ways to do things, on the back end that ended up helping me and gave me a wider amount of knowledge coming into coaching. Then part of understanding the game and coaching is being able to teach and show why things make sense and what we’re trying to do is something I always felt comfortable with and can lean on. I played quarterback, just understanding how other positions fit around the quarterback has been a help. From a motivation and positivity standpoint I think making sure your players enjoy it, building a relationship with them whether that’s in recruiting or the day to day with our players here, I lean back on my own experiences and remember the coaches that lit up the room and you enjoy being around those guys and trying to be that on a daily basis is something I think is important.

“The best news is I get to work for a head coach, that is what he cares about. I get to learn from somebody that truly cares about the student-athlete and in the same sense every decision he makes is what’s best for our players and what’s best for our guys. It’s really cool to see and it’s refreshing to be around. That’s a huge thing and it sounds easy that every head coach would make decisions based on that, but based on my experience and what I’ve seen I’d say very few do that.”

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