Penguins could name starter today
YOUNGSTOWN State football coach Eric Wolford didn’t say it, but you could almost see the bubble over his head, and it read: “Dante Nania is going to be my starting quarterback. … And why did I agree to get water dumped on my head?”
Nania was sharp in the second and final innersquad scrimmage of training camp, finishing 4 of 4 passing for 46 yards. He also scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 17 yards, ending up with 22 yards on four carries. It seems obvious the junior has taken the lead in a quarterback competition that is now down to Nania and true freshman Hunter Wells. The freshman from Navarre-Fairless High School was solid as well on Saturday, completing 6 of 8 passes, but that only resulted in 21 yards, and he threw one interception.
Wolford wouldn’t commit to Nania as the starter after the scrimmage, but his steady performance throughout camp speaks for itself.
“Dante does some good things, Hunter Wells does some good things, so I’m pretty encouraged by those two guys,” said Wolford, who minutes later had a bucket of ice water dumped on his head by two players as part of the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” and then challenged South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. “I think we’ll be ready to name a quarterback. I felt like this week we have a good idea of where we’re at, and I feel pretty confident that as early as (today) we’ll be ready to name a guy.”
It will be shocking if that person is anyone besides Nania. He has taken the majority of the snaps with the first team throughout camp, he started both scrimmages and has done nothing to lose the job. The 6-foot, 195-pound Nania hasn’t been spectacular, but he also hasn’t made many mistakes. That’s critical because Wolford and offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery have repeatedly said they want someone who can manage the game at QB.
Nania has shown he can be that guy, mainly because of the way he commands the offense – one he now fully understands.
“Everything is starting to slow down a lot,” Nania said after the scrimmage. “Coach Montgomery told me, ‘The game is going to slow down. The more reps you get, it’s definitely going to slow down.’ And it has. I’ve got a good grasp of what we’re doing and what the defense is doing.
“I think I made a strong case (to be the starter). This is the best camp I had since I’ve been here. It’s in the coaches’ hands.”
Those coaches appear to have slowly tailored the offense to Nania’s strengths – short, quick passes that give receivers the ball in space. Nania doesn’t possess an incredibly strong arm, so down-field throws won’t be his forte, but he’s accurate and a dangerous runner. Combine that with am explosive running game led by Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer and Freshman of the Year Martin Ruiz, and the offense has an identity.
On the other hand, Wells has been consistent since day one, which is surprising for a true freshman learning his first college playbook. His size (6-5) and arm strength make him the ideal player for the position, and his ability to grasp the offense so quickly is even more impressive. Still, starting a true freshman is a major risk for a coach in the last year of his contract and aiming for his first playoff berth. Wells needed to be absolutely spectacular during camp to win the job, and while he was good, he wasn’t great.
The surprise – and disappointing part – of the whole QB battle is the quick demise of redshirt freshman Ricky Davis. The 6-3, 215-pound Davis entered camp with the starting spot staring him in the face. Wolford said prior to camp that if Davis and Nania played equally, he would pick the younger player (Davis) because he has more time to develop. But Davis, who may be the most physically gifted of the three, never matched Nania. He was inconsistent for much of camp and took snaps with the third string on Saturday. He is still probably the backup to Nania, assuming he’s named the starter, but Davis’ inability to keep up in the QB race has to be discouraging to Wolford.
That said, a player has emerged from the battle, and YSU is capable of winning with Nania. Now comes the tough part: Proving that on Saturdays.