CHARLESTON — Ever since joining the Eastern Illinois football team as a walk-on in 2014, Mattoon's Jared Pilson did all he could to find a way to earn playing time for the Panthers, even moving from quarterback to wide receiver during preseason camp last year.
Pilson wound up playing six games as a wide receiver and on special teams last season, but his biggest impact came at quarterback. After an injury to starting quarterback Mitch Kimble, Pilson started to take snaps at quarterback again in practice and saw action as a backup against Jacksonville State and UT Martin. He threw a touchdown in both games.
Then he earned a start against Eastern Kentucky and led the Panthers to a win in the regular season finale.
Because of those three games, the redshirt sophomore, who will be a junior in the fall, is no longer a walk-on at EIU. After the season, Pilson was awarded a partial scholarship of 25 percent. It's already been bumped up to a 50 percent partial scholarship since that time.
"I came over here as (a walk-on), but I had no intentions as staying as that," Pilson said. "I knew I was going to work and come in and do what I had to do. Now it's building and hopefully there's more to come. Just got to keep working and good things come when you do that. It's so exciting. I am out here doing a bit of everything and it's making practice fun. I am having a blast and it's better when you are getting a little bit of money."
EIU coach Kim Dameron said Pilson has done everything he needed to in order to earn his scholarship.
"The progress he's made as a football player, as an athlete, as a person, just name it, it's been phenomenal," Dameron said. "We gave him a scholarship after he started and won the Eastern Kentucky game for us at quarterback. The more he does, the more we will keep giving him because it seems every time he's out there, he just makes plays."
During Saturday's scrimmage, Pilson made another big play, this time at wide receiver. On third down inside the 10-yard line, backup quarterback Bud Martin had to throw over the defensive back to avoid an interception. The ball made it over the back, but seemed a bit high for Pilson. However, Pilson leaped up and made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone for the touchdown.
Martin's throw showed the trust all of the quarterbacks seem to have in Pilson.
"It was a great throw, right where the (defensive back) couldn't get it," Pilson said. "I just made the catch. That's just all there is to it. Just gotta be where you have to be and the (quarterbacks) will trust you. They will give you a chance and you have to make the play, that's really all there is."
Pilson's play at wide receiver has certainly caught Dameron's attention over the past year.
"I told the offense we were going to start doubling him because every time he is on the field, they throw it to him," Dameron said. "I'm just real proud of him and his progress. It's all hard work. He's a class act and works his butt off."
Pilson doesn't know where he's at on the EIU wide receiver depth chart since it's still spring practice.
"They aren't looking too much into it and I'm not really looking at it either," Pilson said. "This is kind of a learning process for a lot of people and to see what they can do. I will worry more about that when camp rolls around. Right now I am just trying to play ball and have fun right now and help other guys to learn the offense so we can have a good season."
Pilson has even added a new position to his resume this spring. With EIU a little short on running back depth, he's seen some time in the backfield, but as a running back. He's used to running the ball out of the backfield, though.
"It's definitely a little different having to block some linebackers and defensive ends on pass protection and things like that," Pilson said. "As far as running and stuff, I ran a lot as a quarterback, so it's kind of the same thing. I'm obviously not running power and all that stuff, but I have some routes out of the backfield. It's been good."
Even though he didn't take any snaps at quarterback during Saturday's scrimmage, he's still getting plenty of time under center in the other practices. His ability to play three positions has made him the Swiss Army knife of EIU's offense.
"He's all wide receiver (on Saturday) because of necessity, but we have some things that he does in the backfield," Dameron said. "We also keep him alive at quarterback because he can obviously do some things for us at quarterback. He is just a guy that goes in and makes plays and knows the offense. We are going to try and use him as much as we can."
The way Pilson sees it, he's just doing whatever he can to see the field and try and give the Panthers a chance to win the games in the fall.
"It's fun, there's never a quiet day," Pilson said. "I am open to really anything right now. Just put myself where I can get on the field. Just doing what I can do and staying in the mix at quarterback, so I am throwing still. I am learning everything, trying to get better at all of the positions, not just one of them."