UNI Panthers

UNI football camp preview: Quarterback competition features 4 legitimate candidates

1 of Jacob Keller, Will McElvain, Nate Martens, Justin Fomby will start at Iowa State

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley watches his team warm prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley watches his team warm prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — A four-person quarterback competition looms largest over Northern Iowa’s football camp, which begins Thursday.

Coach Mark Farley reiterated on Monday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference teleconference the competition is “wide open,” setting the table for a quarterback battle unlike any other during Farley’s previous 18 years in Cedar Falls. Jacob Keller and Will McElvain are the returnees; freshman Nate Martens and transfer Justin Fomby the newcomers.

Whoever wins the job will face a tough task in his first start. The Panthers — picked fifth in the MVFC’s 2019 preseason poll — open the season in Ames against an Iowa State team picked third in the Big 12, on Aug. 31.

Knowing what his team faces to begin the season, Farley had a simple explanation for how the Panthers can have a successful fall camp.

“We just have to be ready,” he said. “It’s not who we play or how strong our schedule is, it’s just the guy that lines up across from us we better be ready (for him) and we better have a good camp to get ready.”

UNI’s readiness for another strong schedule will certainly hinge on how the quarterback competition plays out. Given the unusual nature of four legitimate candidates vying for the job, Farley described how he’ll go about when to pare down the competition throughout camp.

“My best answer for that is really by instincts,” Farley said. “You’ve got to go by feel of how one (quarterback) starts to evolve over another, and then how to start separating (them). There’s got to come a time when the reps change so you get the guy ready that you need ready — there’s no question about that — but putting a timeline on it right now, I’ve based most of our stuff here based off watching them, getting a feel for them, and using your experience to figure out when that time is.

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“You can’t pick one too soon. Some of these guys develop a little later just because of knowledge. First, you have to understand (the offense) before you can show your skill set. After we get the knowledge in, hopefully their skill set will separate them.”

Another position set to feature plenty of competition this fall is kicker. Austin Errthum’s 24-of-29 mark in 2018 helped UNI win a number of games last season, but Errthum has graduated, leaving Sam Drysdale and Nate Murphy as returnees at the position.

Murphy, a redshirt sophomore, has yet to see action. Drysdale, a senior, made 17 of 21 attempts in 2017 but lost his job last season when Errthum displayed improved accuracy to go along with a stronger leg.

Matthew Cook of Cedar Falls and Isaac Jorgenson of Dike-New Hartford joined UNI this summer as two true freshmen with hopes of winning the place-kicker job, and Farley isn’t ruling anything out.

“We’ve started many freshmen (kickers) over the years,” Farley said. “I remember Kyle Bernard, his first punt from scrimmage was when his heels were on the back of the end zone at Kinnick Stadium. If they’re the starter, they’re picked for a reason.

“We just have to make sure they’re mentally strong enough to take those roles on when they get those opportunities.”

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