116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After navigating a difficult season this spring amid COVID-19 protocols, Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson entered the offseason wanting to add competition to their room of quarterbacks.
So, Watson — who’s entering his second season as UNI’s O.C. — found competition for the room of QBs in Michigan State transfer Theo Day, a native of Dearborn, Mich., who was recruited by Watson when he was at Pitt from 2017-18.
Day, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, was ranked the No. 1 QB in Michigan as a high school senior in 2017. Multiple outlets categorized him as a pro-style QB, but the Michigan product ran for 878 yards and 13 TDs as a senior at Divine Child High School.
In three seasons at Michigan State, Day redshirted in 2018 and was unable to win the starting job as West Des Moines Valley grad Rocky Lombardi started a majority of the Spartans’ games last season before transferring to Northern Illinois.
“Theo is a kid that I knew. I knew what kind of person he was. I knew what kind of player he was,” Watson said. “I felt like he would be a good fit here for us. He has a clear perception of what he’s walking into. Will (McElvain) is the starting quarterback and he’s here to make that room better, do a good job and see where the chips may fall.”
With Watson revealing that Day committed to UNI with the understanding that McElvain remains the starter, it’s clear he and the rest of UNI’s offensive staff remain high on the Des Moines Lincoln product’s potential.
After being named preseason all-Missouri Valley Football Conference, the redshirt sophomore fell short of those expectations this spring, in part due to a two-week absence from COVID-19 and weekly roster uncertainty. He finished the 2021 spring season 72-of-141 (51 percent) with 938 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Headed into this offseason, Watson says McElvain and the entire room of QBs are focused on game-management skills.
“Teaching them to not only execute plays, but manage the game of football because no other position in any sport does what a quarterback does,” Watson said. “That guy is like a coach on the field, he makes decisions for the entire team on every snap.”
Beyond Day and McElvain, the Panthers have other legitimate options at the position.
Justin Fomby displayed potential in two starts while McElvain was out, completing 33 of 52 passes (63 percent) for 433 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
“He’s got some unique ability,” Watson said. “He has some quarterback instincts and just natural ball ability as a passer. He’s not a thrower, he’s a passer.”
Nate Martens, who like Fomby is entering his third season, was another highly-touted recruit but has yet to gain an opportunity in what quickly became a young, talented QB depth chart back in 2018.
“He’s competing in the room,” Watson said. “He comes in there and makes the room better every day he walks in there, because he has purpose to his work.”
With preseason camp six weeks away, Watson told The Gazette that each signal-caller will get an ample opportunity to show the staff what they can do.
“We’re going to make sure that we set things up where we can obviously give them each a fair opportunity to show their work,” Watson said. “What they get from there will be what they earn. Because our job then is for the team by making sure that we give them those reps, give them those opportunities and then we have to create competition and let the best man win.”