By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State is holding a four-man quarterback race this spring, but head coach Eric Wolford wants it to become a two-man race by this summer.
One slot may already be filled.
Junior Dante Nania, who spent last season as Kurt Hess’ primary backup, had another strong practice on Thursday and has impressed the Penguin coaches with his progress this spring.
“People don’t realize — he came into the North Dakota State game and raised fits with those guys,” Wolford said of Nania. “You can’t tackle him. He can run. He’s just got to manage the game.
“Last Tuesday he had a pretty good practice. He forced one throw down near the red zone. We’re seeing some progress. We just want to see some consistency.”
Nania (6-foot, 205 pounds) replaced Hess (injured ankle) in the second quarter of the NDSU game, completing 5 of 9 passes for 67 yards and rushing five times for 25 years. Nania led the Penguins to one first down in his first two drives before guiding YSU on a scoring drive just before halftime.
Trailing 14-7, Nania drove YSU from its own 6 to the Bison’s 14 before injuring his shoulder on a late hit by NDSU’s Cole Jirik. In obvious pain, Nania threw one more pass — it was incomplete — before Joey Cejudo made a field goal as time expired. YSU eventually lost 35-17, with then-freshman Tanner Garry playing most of the second half.
Nania missed the next week with a separated shoulder, with the rehab stretching into the offseason.
Nania bulked up last spring for a brief position change to safety — he was moved back to quarterback after a few weeks — and looks much leaner this spring, thanks in part to being unable to do any upper-body lifting after the injury.
“He probably needed to lean up a little bit,” Wolford said. “He was pretty muscle-bound, so it’s not a bad thing.”
Nania completed 11 of 20 passes for 180 yards last season and ran 11 times for 35 yards. He was more of a one-read-and-run quarterback last season, but seems to be more comfortable in the offense this spring.
“We’ve got to do some things around him, too, to make his job easier,” Wolford said. “The offensive linemen need to give him some protection and the running backs need to take care of the football.”
Garry, redshirt freshman Ricky Davis and sophomore Nick Wargo are splitting the other reps in practice and Saturday’s practice should help the coaches get more clarity with the depth chart.
“It’s really hard to get four guys reps, as far as practice,” Wolford said, when asked why he’d like to narrow it to a two-man race by the summer. “Saturday will be a big day. It’s graded. It’s a real live situation.
“Then, at some point during camp, we are going to go live [tackling] on the quarterback. I think it’ll be good for our offense and good for our defense. We’ll get to that in the next two weeks.”