CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa football team held its 15th and final “fall ball” practice in front of a small gathering of family members last Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
Quarterbacks Will McElvain, Nate Martens and Da’Vonshai Harden rotated series against a number of rotating defensive players, while crowd noise blared through the Dome’s speakers.
A team official told The Gazette backup quarterback Justin Fomby was absent from practice due to a family emergency. Even without Fomby, however, it was clear Coach Mark Farley and his staff were giving players down the depth chart more repetitions than usual in preparation for their spring season.
After practice ended, Farley told The Gazette it was productive and necessary to go live this fall adding he still feels, however, his team is behind schedule.
“What the ‘COVID clock’ says is that we’ve got one month before we have finals. So we’ve got work to do there,” Farley said. “Then, we’ve only got two months and we’re lined up and doing this again. We’ve got to get our bodies where they belong so we can play to our standard and yet sustain that level of play (all year). Once we start, it’s 12 months.”
Farley also hoped to identify a few defensive players with the ability to play multiple positions.
“Our Swiss army knife is critical,” Farley said. “I would say right now (Eric) Mooney is one, (Isaiah) Nimmers is two and Korby (Sander) is three. But, Korby is still learning how to play again after sitting out (injured) for a year. Mooney and Nimmers have given us latitude to do some things.”
McElvain’s performance in Saturday’s fall practice finale was uneventful. A couple deep throws just missed while he connected on a few intermediate passes. Perhaps most notable was what seemed to be a concerted effort to step up in the pocket amid pressure instead of scrambling — which offensive line coach Ryan Clanton pointed out when asked about what he’s seen from the sophomore QB.
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“My favorite thing about Will is this year he’s stepping up in the pocket a lot more,” Clanton said. “He’s really kind of feeling that pocket and stepping up. He’s really doing a great job managing the game and he’s still making spectacular plays, spectacular throws. You can (see) the growth in practice when you watch him.”
Not long after UNI’s final fall practice ended, its defensive backfield got a notable addition in Minnesota transfer Benny Sapp III. Sapp played in all 13 games for the Golden Gophers as a freshman and in 11 games last season as a sophomore. He’ll arrive at UNI with three years of eligibility remaining.
Sapp’s father, Benny, played at UNI from 2002-03 after spending his first two seasons at Iowa.
UNI opens its spring season Feb. 20 against Illinois State at the UNI-Dome.