CEDAR FALLS – University of Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley finds himself in an enviable position heading into the 2012 season.
No, the 11th-year coach is not overly excited about venturing to Camp Randall Stadium to play a Wisconsin team which opens the season ranked in the top 10 in the Bowl Championship Series and has aspirations of winning a national championship.
Nor is he thrilled to have to find a replacement for two-time All-Missouri Valley Football Conference quarterback Tirrell Rennie, who accounted for 5,504 yards of offense and led the Panthers to a combined 17-8 record, a pair of MVFC titles and a pair of playoff appearances in his two years.
What gets Farley fired-up is the fact that UNI has not one, not two, nor even three quarterbacks to choose from this season. The Panthers have four quality quarterbacks vying for the starting spot, and Farley has confidence that any of the four can get the job done.
So while many coaches would fret over the loss of a quarterback of Rennie’s caliber, Farley looks at it as a golden opportunity.
Farley prefers to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
“We’ve got four quality quarterbacks. I’m telling you, I’ve heard the coaches mention it, we have not in our time here had four quarterbacks who can throw the ball like these four can and make decisions that they make. They are all young, too – three redshirt sophomores and a true freshman and all of them carrying themselves like juniors,” Farley said.
Farley has reason to be optimistic. Consider each quarterback’s resume.
* Jared Lanpher. The redshirt sophomore from Blue Spring, Mo., is the only one of the four with playing time at UNI. Last season Lanpher completed 27-of-47 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions. He led Blue Spring High School to a 29-6 record in his three years as a starter, earning all-state honors after leading his team to the state title game his senior season.
* Sawyer Kollmorgen. The redshirt freshman from Jenks, Okla., was a three-year starting quarterback at Jenks High School, finishing with a 33-3 record. He set the Jenks passing record with 6,716 passing yards for his career with 74 touchdowns. He was named the Oklahoma District 6A-3 Player of the Year his senior year, earning first team all-state accolades as a junior and senior.
* Stephen Kaiser. The redshirt sophomore transferred from SMU after spending a redshirt year with the Mustangs in 2010. He was a three-star Rivals.com and Scout.com recruit out of Desmet High School in St. Louis. He completed 101-of-186 passes for 1,769 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, helping his team to a 12-1 record. He was a first team all-state selection.
* Justin Black. The true freshman moved from Michigan to Naples, Fla., where he played for Barron Collier High School. He threw for more than 1,000 yards all three season and helped his team to the playoffs all three years.
While Farley has settled on Kollmorgen as the starter against Wisconsin and Black likely will redshirt, Farley is happy with what he has seen from all four quarterbacks.
“There are some very good balls thrown out there in some very tight spots. Not always to the right guy, but we’ll get that cleaned up. But they’re throwing some good balls out there which is exciting, not only for this season, but for a long time to come. That’s pretty neat,” Farley said.
The quarterbacks, while feeding off the competition among themselves, have become close friends on and off the field.
“We’re all really close. When I first came up here they were all really good guys to me. They were teaching me the offense. We’re real close as a group,” Black said. “It’s been a lot of fun. You can tell the way the coaches coach. They coach us to win. We just have to get behind them an let them lead us.”
“We’re really close together. Last year me and Jared hung out together. We still did this summer. Then Stephen came in this summer. We took him under our wings. We took him out golfing and did a bunch of stuff, just hanging out together, getting close as a group,” said Kollmorgen, who said he looked up to former Oklahoma quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Jason White when he was growing up.
UNI’s success and long tradition as one of the top Football Championship Series teams in the country is what attracted all four quarterbacks to the Cedar Falls school.
“Whenever I left SMU, I was looking for a school closer to home. Also I wanted to have a shot at playing right away, so I wasn’t going to go to another DI school. DI-AA still has great football. I was looking at places close to home and I knew Northern Iowa had a great football program. When I came up here I talked to the kids and got a feel for the coaches and everything and I really liked it,” Kaiser said.
“I chose UNI first off because of the coaches here. (Assistant) Coach (Mario) Verduzco is an excellent coach. The spot is wide open. But at the same time we have four really good quarterbacks here who can step in,” Black said.
Each of the four quarterbacks has his own strengths and weaknesses. Each has a strong arm. Each can run. It gives Farley confidence that any and all of the four can get the job done for the Panthers.
“We’re all real similar kind of quarterbacks. You’re not going to see any of us be a Tirrell Rennie and just run the ball 50 yards. But I think right now they’re just giving every one of us a good opportunity to see what’s best for the team. I’,m not sure how or when they’re going to decide anything. We’ll take it day by day and see how it goes,” Lanpher said. “You’re going to see out of all four of us passing, pro-style kind of quarterbacks as much as the zone read with Tirrell. But that was his strong suit – how fast and elusive he was.”
“They’re good. They like each other. Mario (Verduzco) is a good coach. We couldn’t have a better guy coaching those four guys. They’re here for a reason – they like Mario. They know how Mario coaches. We let our quarterbacks make decisions. We’re a throwing football team. That’s probably the difference from last year to this year. We ran the option with Tirrell. Tirrell could run,” Farley said. “We’ll run a very similar offense. But when Tirrell pulled it down and ran, he could score. These guys get a first down and move the chains. It’s a little different attitude. Sam offense, but move the chains instead of the guy might score every time he touched the ball last year. This year we’ll have to use our talent surrounding him and move the chains.”
The four quarterbacks became close friends in camp. When all is said and done, they will remain friends.
“We’re all friends, but at the same time we have to keep that competitive edge because we’re all fighting for the same position. But we all get along pretty well,” Kaiser said.
“We talked about it before, no matter what happens we have to stay friends. That’s the last thing the team needs is the quarterbacks fighting or bickering at each other. Either way we have tough enough position as it is. The last thing we need is, whoever the starter, to have no support from the rest of the quarterbacks. I think that the quarterbacks are doing a good job of sticking together,” Lanpher said.