Biggest question for Central Michigan and their football program this upcoming season? There might not be an easier question to answer, as all eyes are fixated on the quarterback position. The much maligned Ryan Radcliff departs CMU as a three year starter that accounted for 9,917 yards and 65 touchdowns through the air. Despite his ups and downs at the QB position, Radcliff leaves Mt. Pleasant as the Chippewas No. 2 ranked quarterback in career passing yards, touchdowns and attempts behind some guy named Dan LeFevour.
Replacing Radcliff will be no easy task, and after the spring game there was still no front runner for the starting QB position. To shed some light on the quarterback battle, ChippewaCountry spoke with the man who has the best perspective: QB Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Morris Watts.
"At this point in time as I talk about each of these young men, we haven't made a decision on who is going to be a starter in the fall," said Watts. "We didn't feel like when we came out of spring that there was a clear cut decision among these three, not counting the freshman we had enroll in January. But between those other three, we didn't think there was a clear cut decision so we're going to roll it on in the summer. Hopefully they push each other in the summer and make each other better right into fall practice."
Here are his thoughts on each of the quarterbacks competing for the starting role.
Junior Cody Kater
Kater's arrival at Central Michigan was interesting to say the least. He originally signed with the Chippewas in the class of 2010 as part of Butch Jones class, but when Jones left for Cincinnati he was put in a precarious position. He would eventually commit to Cincinnati but would last only a year there before transferring to Grand Rapids Community College. He led GRCC to a perfect 11-0 record as he threw for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns. He would re-enter the recruiting world and would eventually end up at the place it all started: Central Michigan. He was the only other quarterback to see the field last season, and he received the back-up quarterback label as a result.
Watts: "Cody had a good spring, definitely has a chance to be the man. A lot will depend on how he does over the summer months. I think there is some learning to do in our offense and everything, but I don't feel like he is behind in the development as a quarterback at this stage."
Redshirt freshman Cooper Rush
Perhaps the least talked about of the three in a mainstream sense, Rush led Lansing (Mich.) Catholic to an 11-1 record and a runner-up finish in the state championship as a senior in 2011. That season threw for over 4,000 yards and 48 touchdowns, but despite being labeled a pocket passer, he also ran for 756 yards and 16 touchdowns. Rush carries a 3.9 GPA and finished the Spring Game 7-of-15 for 115 yards to go along with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Watts: "Cooper is right there in the thick of it. His real strength is that he is about as accurate of a passer that I've ever been around in fifty some years of coaching quarterbacks. He has tremendous accuracy, but he is still in the phase of our offense where there is no thinking and those types of things. But towards the last three practices of the spring, there were a lot of good things shown by that young man. I know he's going to have a great summer and come in as one of the three competing for the starting position once he gets his ducks lined up and knows exactly where he is at."
Redshirt sophomore Alex Niznak
A player with local roots to the Chippewas, Niznak came to CMU by way of Ithaca (Mich.), just a short drive down the highway. He led Ithaca to a 14-0 record and state championship as a senior, passing for 2,731 yards and 31 touchdowns while also adding 1,136 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. He completed 4-of-9 passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns in the Chippewas Spring Game.
Watts: "Alex had a pretty good spring, he is probably the best runner of the three as far as being able to scramble, hurt some defenses and run some quarterback draws and everything. He had a good spring in that regard."
Freshman Darrien Boone
Boone comes to CMU from Chicago (Ill.) Hales Franciscan, but did not actually play football there. After his junior season at Fenger Academy in Illinois, he transferred and was never granted eligibility per Illinois HS rules. As a junior he passed for 36 touchdowns and ran for another 10 as he led Fenger Academy to a conference championship. He enrolled early at CMU, but has not played competitive football since 2011.
Watts: "Darrien is the fourth guy in this group, but not ready by any means. He came to us in January and he is still really struggling learning our offense, which I think is a thing that happens to most young men when they first come in to college at this position. In their minds, they have a hard time transitioning all the things they called in high school to what it is being called in our program. Too many times they are still thinking when the ball is in their hands and they need to make a decision."
Senior A.J. Westendorp
Westendorp is the only other QB on the roster to receive any sort of live game playing time, as made appearances against Western Michigan and Michigan State in 2010. While he has been given a shot at QB in the spring, it appears Westendorp's best shot to make an impact on the team will be at tight end and on special teams. He was listed as a TE last season, and was credited with 11 tackles on defense. At 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds, Westendorp is physically able to play other positions and is both a noted athlete and scholar (3.96 GPA in Biomedical Sciences).
The featured story line of CMU football will continue you on into the summer, and there really is no solid prediction for either one of the quarterbacks. Sources have told us that all three have different skill sets, and each has had good and bad days during spring practice.
With three quarterbacks vying for the position, the hope is that one begins to separate himself from the pack and can start taking more reps. As Watts pointed out in our discussion, the reps are limited with having three guys compete and it can be challenging to make sure they all get equal opportunity. It would not be shocking to see all three get a look in the season opener vs. Michigan, much like the QB battle in 2006 between Brian Brunner, Dan LeFevour and Duane Brooks.
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