By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford has a simple rule when it comes to position battles: a tie goes to the underclassman.
Which is why junior quarterback Dante Nania knows he can’t be as good as redshirt freshman Ricky Davis. He has to be better.
“I definitely have to separate myself,” said Nania, speaking to reporters for the first time at Friday’s media day after the quarterbacks were off-limits in the spring. “I want to make it as easy as possible for the coaches, to make myself the clear-cut starter.
“But, may the best man win.”
After a four-man competition in the spring, Nania and Davis emerged as the two favorites to replace longtime starter Kurt Hess. Both played well in the spring game and both could see time in the early part of the season, when YSU plays non-conference games against Big Ten member Illinois and lower-level FCS teams Duquesne, Butler and St. Francis.
Offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery said he’d like to name a starter after two weeks of camp, and he’s hoping it’s a difficult decision.
“I’d rather have them both earn the right for playing time, instead of one not playing well and us saying he doesn’t deserve to play,” Montgomery said. “They both had good-enough springs, they both can help us and we know we can win with both of them.
“If we don’t feel like we have a clear-cut guy in a couple weeks, we could very easily go into the first part of the season and give both a chance.”
Nania (6-0, 195) has played in five career games at quarterback, including four last season when he completed 11 of 20 passes for 180 yards.
He’s a good athlete with a strong arm and the ability to run, but he also got injured twice in limited action. He suffered a concussion while running out a botched extra point against South Dakota and separated his shoulder on a late hit against North Dakota State.
“I’m 100 percent now, so my goal is to stay healthy,” he said.
Davis (6-3, 215), who switched to Hess’ No. 12 after the spring, has better size and a stronger arm than Nania and is also a strong runner. But he’s inexperienced and admitted the game didn’t really slow down for him until midway through spring practice.
“In the spring, I feel like I really got a grasp of the offense,” he said. “Coming into the fall, my biggest weakness is reading the defense and knowing where to look as far as coverages and stuff.
“Coming in as a freshman, when I told I was going to redshirt, the bullets were flying, but it’s slowed down a lot this year. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s a lot easier.”
YSU has five quarterbacks on the roster, with sophomore Tanner Garry (who threw a touchdown pass against North Dakota State) most likely the third-stringer. Incoming freshman Hunter Wells could challenge for that spot if he isn’t redshirted. Sophomore Nick Wargo, who wasn’t at Friday’s opening practice and may not arrive at camp until Aug. 20, seems to be buried at the bottom of the depth chart.
Wolford has repeatedly said he’s not looking for a game-changer at quarterback, just a game-manager. YSU is loaded at running back and has a veteran group of receivers and tight ends, so he doesn’t want his quarterback feeling like he has to win the game by himself.
“Who’s going to do the things we ask them to do and who’s going to do the things we’ve coached them to do?” Wolford said. “There’s a ton of guys around you. Just manage the game.”
“They’re looking for someone to manage the game,” Nania said. “I don’t have to force every throw. If I have to dump it down, I have to dump it down.”
Added Davis: “To win the job, it’s going to take me managing the game. The main goal is to see this team get wins.”