Upbeat and excited heading into the Illinois football spring game Saturday, coach Ron Zook liked the way his overhauled coaching staff is more insistent. It's their way or the highway with the Illini.

Upbeat and excited heading into the Illinois football spring game Saturday, coach Ron Zook liked the way his overhauled coaching staff is more insistent. It's their way or the highway with the Illini.

It has put a different mood in the locker room and evidently pleased Zook, who suggested Tuesday "maybe that's one of issues we weren't getting before.''

"The biggest thing is being demanding,'' Zook said before the Illini hold the spring game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday (1 p.m.). "This is the way we want it. This is you way you'll do it. If you're not going to do it, we'll put somebody else in there. That's the biggest change. It's been a breath of fresh air to me. You don't have to say the same things over and over again.

"The coaches are not only demanding, but they've taught. Coaching is teaching. Your best coaches are your best teachers.''

With six new staff members from a year ago, things have changed in the Illini locker room after posting an 8-16 record in the last seasons following the school's first Rose Bowl appearance in 24 years.

Coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning preached toughness and discipline since they arrived.

"When there's a line drawn in the sand, this is the way it's going to be,'' Zook said.

QUARTERBACK: Zook made no announcement on the starter but said the obvious. The race is between redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase, who worked predominantly with the first team and is expected to earn the job, and sophomore Jacob Charest. While Zook didn't seem to anxious to name the starter, he acknowledged Petrino would like to move forward.

"Some days, Nathan is the starter,'' Zook said. "I don't think there's any question. Paul would like to have a decision. He's going to be pretty big in that, him and (quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm). I don't know it's imperative to have a starting quarterback. It's imperative that they all continue to improve this summer.''

Zook was also leaning toward putting the red jerseys on the quarterbacks for the spring game, keeping them off limits to contact and reducing the risk of injury.

"That would be a little different from what Paul would want,'' Zook said. "They've all took some shots. I'm not looking to try to prove if they're tough or not.''

SUMMER SCHOOL: The coaching staff will outline a plan later this week for the Illini to execute during the summer months when coaches can't have contact.

"That's something we've not done in the past,'' Zook said. "It's a great idea. These are the things we expect them to do. I feel the leadership is such that they will get it done.''

Scheelhaase, receivers Jarred Fayson and A.J. Jenkins and lineman Jeff Allen are strong leaders on offense with defensive tackle Corey Liuget, linebackers Martez Wilson and Ian Thomas and cornerback Tavon Wilson the leaders on defense, Zook said.

ETC.: Defensive tackle Josh Brent, who is enrolled in Parkland College in an attempt to boost his grades, likely won't know his eligibility until following the summer semester. ... Center Graham Pocic excelled following a position change this spring. Former center Tyler Sands is more suited at guard. ... Admission to the spring game and parking is free. Fans will enter the stadium's east side and use the east main bleachers.    John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.