Before Northern Iowa opens its 2015 season at Iowa State, a No. 1 quarterback will be selected and a backup. It might be Sawyer Kollmorgen, who owns the most starts at UNI of any candidate in the field. Perhaps Dalton Demos, the Coastal Carolina/junior college transfer, finishes on top. Aaron Bailey, who became a Panther after a stay at Illinois, may emerge. Then there’s Eli Dunne, the Grinnell kid who looked good during UNI’s spring workouts.
So who will it be? During preseason chats with the media, the coaching staff did not tip its hand. All four of the primary candidates are equal, said new offensive coordinator Joe Davis.
“You have to get two guys ready to play the first game,” he said. “However, I told the quarterbacks . that we’re going to need all four of you guys in a huge way at some point this season. Be ready.”
Facetiously, head coach Mark Farley said he sees a lot of red when he looks at UNI’s quarterback corps, and he’s happy about it.
Farley said, “If we go to stretch this afternoon, it’s the longest line. I mean, we’ve got more red jerseys . I think we can make a whole kickoff team out of them. They’re all over the place.
“I know this I’ve got to have a quarterback.”
Quarterbacks wear red jerseys in practice as a way to remind the defense not to hit them. When the regular season begins, of course, the limits are off. If UNI’s recent history means anything, the starting quarterback is going to get hit.
Over the last five seasons 2010 through 2014 only twice has one Panther started every game at quarterback. wholesale jerseys Tirrell Rennie did it in 2010, and Kollmorgen was No. 1 on every Saturday in 2012. Beyond that? Jared Lanpher started once in relief of an injured Rennie four seasons ago. Brion Carnes stepped in for Kollmorgen in both 2013 and last fall.
If anyone understands the UNI definition of competition, it’s Kollmorgen, his 27 starts as a Panther notwithstanding. He’s been through the grind in 2012, 2014 and this year.
“I wish it would be different,” said Kollmorgen, who suffered a season ending concussion in 2013. “But it is what it is. There were games where I didn’t do my job. I put myself in a bad position so on, so forth. I just go out there and keep competing. I just keep swinging away, having fun, enjoying the competition. Whoever is the best quarterback for the team goes out there, and I’ll be ready, whoever that is.”
In his nine games last year, Kollmorgen’s numbers dropped. A 61 percent passer in his first two seasons at UNI and the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year as a rookie, the Tulsa, Okla., native hit just 52 percent of his 2014 attempts.
Thus, Carnes replaced him and helped UNI make its run into the FCS playoffs. But, when Carnes struggled in the postseason loss at Illinois State, Kollmorgen came on and went 18 for 31, good for 234 yards and a touchdown.
So he’s battling for a job one more time. Instead of just Carnes, there are three rivals. Kollmorgen, though, insists the relationship among the top quarterbacks is solid.
“It’s still a close group,” he said. “We still want to see each other succeed.”
After leaving Coastal Carolina in 2012 without playing a game, Demos succeeded at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. As a sophomore, he led his team to an 11 1 record and a conference title while throwing for 1,120 yards. Demos can run, too. 6 dual threat quarterback in the country at that level.
A 6 6, 203 pound junior, Demos did not get a full chance to display those skills at UNI spring ball as he recovered from a knee injury.
“I missed all the team reps. I didn’t get any of that,” said the St. Louis native. “That definitely put me at a disadvantage. But at the same time, I was able to stand back and get a lot of mental reps and try to figure out the places where the ball needed to go. I was watching the other guys. That was beneficial.”
Dunne, conversely, received plenty of opportunities to show what he could do in spring ball after redshirting in 2014. He played well in the spring game and impressed Farley with his early effort in fall camp.
If nothing else, the 6 4, 227 pound redshirt freshman now feels like he belongs.
“Right now, I’m a lot more comfortable coming into my second year,” he said. “Last year was kind of eye opening, being a true freshman coming into a Division I program. I feel like that one year under my belt has really helped me moving forward into this camp.”
Bailey is a 6 2, 226 pound junior. At Illinois, he played in 14 games over two seasons. As a sophomore, Bailey completed nine of 16 passes.
That said, Bailey feels he brings plenty of attributes to the competition Big Ten experience, size, the ability to throw and extend a play if he needs time to find the open receiver. He also feels comfortable in the Davis offense.
“I mean, I’m just like any other quarterback,” said Bailey. “I’m sure all of us feel like we’re the starter. You know, that’s how I feel. I’m sure I’m speaking on them. They feel the same way. That’s how I feel. I just go out there and do what I have to do to make them better.”
Bailey may or may not emerge as the No. 1 quarterback, but he has summed up what Farley wants to see. Does the starter make the players around him better? Can he do that in practice with the third team as well as the first?
Farley and Davis have options. The time is coming to choose one out of many, no matter how tough the decision might be.
“I think there are enough to pick from,” said Farley. “They’re all different, but they’re all smart.”
Said Davis, “If you told me today, hey this is your starter of any of the four and said this is the guy you’ve got to go with, I’d be head over heels about the guy. The point being, all four of them have performed exceptionally well throughout camp.