Starting quarterback will remain unknown until Saturday’s season opener


Offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness addresses the quarterbacks during practice Wednesday at Huskie Stadium.

By James Krause

DeKALB — Football Head Coach Thomas Hammock has decided not to name a starting quarterback, opening up competition among contenders.

“I don’t think I’ll name a [starting] quarterback,” Hammock said in an NIU Athletics news release Thursday. “I think we’ll just continue to practice and get ready to play.”

The competition has reigned through summer camp and will continue up to and beyond, the Huskies season opener Aug. 31 against Illinois State University.

Redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Childers returns after posting 2,175 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2018. 

The highlight of the season for the native of Adairsville, Georgia was being named Offensive MVP of the Mid-American Conference Championship game when Childers threw for a career-high 300 yards and four touchdowns.

On the other hand, highlights were hard to come by last season for graduate transfer Ross Bowers. The quarterback started one game for the University of California – Berkeley Bears before being taken out of the starting position. 

A new direction for the Bears’ program and surgery on a fractured right thumb ultimately spelled the end of Bowers’ time at California where he had previously started 13 games, he said.

“They wanted to go in a different direction with the starter, and that didn’t have me in their plans,” Bowers said. “What I was really looking for was a new home that needed a quarterback who could be explosive and make plays down the field that fit their scheme.”

Despite winning the MAC Championship, the Huskies were among some of the worst offensive teams in the country, finishing in the bottom 10 in both total points scored and total offensive yards, according to College Football Reference.

Childers said a change of coaches could give the offense the boost it needs.

“I’m pretty sure that as a team we wanted a chance to change, and we weren’t happy with what was going on,” Childers said. “When we found out who it was and how he coached, I thought the whole team changed perspective just knowing what he was going to bring.”

Bowers said his recruitment was one of the biggest priorities for Hammock during the offseason. Bowers said Hammock was recruiting him even while Bowers was recovering from having two screws put in his right thumb.

During spring camp, Bowers’ move to NIU was made official.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Bowers said. “The majority of people who transfer, I’d assume, leave with some type of bitterness or feeling that [they] missed an opportunity. It’s been so nice getting out here to put all those regrets and frustrations to rest and learn from them.”

Childers said the quarterbacks at NIU weren’t surprised Hammock and his staff decided to bring in a new quarterback given their struggles the year prior.

“We expected they were going to bring someone in,” Childers said. “We weren’t sure who it was going to be or where he was going to be from, but we expected it given some of our numbers last year.”

Bowers said he understands that throwing in a graduate transfer can stir up feelings in the locker room, having been on the 2016 California Bears team when quarterback Davis Webb transferred in from Texas Tech.

“I’ve been on the other side of this,” Bowers said. “It wasn’t the smoothest. He was a great player, but it kind of felt like everything was set in stone from day one. He didn’t even really earn everyone’s respect or even know everyone’s name yet.” 

Bowers said the competition itself isn’t about being on edge but is more about sharing experience and ideas to improve everyone on the depth chart. 

“It feels like we can bounce ideas off of each other, and there’s not a lot of what people would expect where there’s an awkwardness or you’re walking on eggshells around each other,” Bowers said. “With graduate transfers there’s that expectation you’ll get the job. Here there’s not. We’re here to compete, and the best man is going to play.”

Childers said there is tension to compete against colleagues but that’s not how he measures his improvement.

“I don’t tend to stress myself out over [the depth chart],” Childers said. “I know we’re competing against each other, but I’m competing against myself every day to make myself better for the team. I’m trying to get better at the things I wasn’t good at last year.”

It’s nothing new to either quarterback to have to compete for the starting spot.

Childers said every spot is up for grabs each year, and the coaching staff is pushing for more battling.

“Competition is always a thing,” Childers said. “It’s just so we can get better. Competition creates greatness.

In the end, one quarterback will have to swallow their pride and take on the backup role, but from there, responsibility is still plenty.

Bowers said it might be tough to lower expectations if he doesn’t become the starter.

Through the process of transferring out of California, having surgery and transferring to NIU, Bowers said he developed the ability to have a positive outlook on any situation.

“I feel like this last year I’ve kind of lost my positive attitude and no-flinch mentality,” Bowers said. “No matter if something is good, bad or ugly, I need to just take it for what it’s worth and keep moving forward.Worst case scenario I don’t get the job,” Bowers said. “I still need to stay ready because it’s a long season. I want to make sure no one sees me flinch on the team, and I maintain the reputation that I’ve built for the last three months here.”

Childers said his parents raised him to try and win everything, meaning a fall from the spot he occupied last year may be a let down. Still, Childers said he would want to support whoever becomes the leader of the offense.

“You want to be the guy, but you are always going to be their support,” Childers said. “My mom and dad always raised me to be competitive and to try and win everything you play in, so as a competitor I might be disappointed because of all the hard work I’ve put in. If it goes in [someone else’s] favor, I’ll be the most supportive. Mom didn’t raise me to be a coward or be hateful or disrespectful towards people.”

The competition for all starting positions may rage on well into the season. The question of who will start the season as quarterback will be answered Saturday at Huskie Stadium against the Redbirds when either Bowers or Childers will lead their offense onto the field.