QB competition under way for Penguins
fighting for the job
By BOB ETTINGER
Nathan Mays and Montgomery VanGorder are teammates first and they are rooting for each other. However, they are also competitors battling to be the next quarterback of the Youngstown State football team.
“We’re going to compete every day,” VanGorder said. “That’s my No. 1 goal. I told Coach [Bo Pelini] I would come in every day and compete. He said that’s what he expected of me every day. Nate’s been here three years. He has a lot of experience. We’re all part of the same offense. It’s up to us to bring our best. I’m going to work my butt off every day. I want to be the starting quarterback. That’s why I came here. Nothing is given, especially with Coach Pelini.”
Said Mays: “We’ll always be competing. We know that. If we’re not fighting [for the job] we aren’t getting better. We have to give it our all. You saw when I made a great play, he was right there saying so. When he made a great throw, I was right there and slapped his butt. We’ve only known each other two weeks.”
The duo, along with redshirt freshmen Conor Collins and Joe Craycraft, are taking their first steps toward that goal as spring practice kicks into gear.
“I like our group of quarterbacks,” Pelini said. “Obviously, Nathan has experience because he played. VanGorder has been around the game a while. Joe Craycraft is a young kid with a lot of talent. I like this group. It’s about teaching and developing right now. They’ve got to learn the game and lay the foundation. I think they’re doing that. Everyone is raising their level. I have a lot of confidence in those guys.”
Mays, a junior, started five games for the Penguins in 2017 while VanGorder is a graduate transfer who spent the last four seasons in South Bend, Ind., toiling with Notre Dame.
“They have a lot of similarities,” Pelini said. “They all have different strengths and weaknesses. A lot of it is exposing them to this offense. We’ll look at every kid and figure out the things they do well and the things they need to work on. Coach [Joe] Ganz is a hell of a coach. He’ll do a good job developing them.”
To be the Penguins’ next signal-caller, the contenders need to check a lot of boxes on their respective to-do lists.
“[We’re looking for] execution,” Pelini said. “We want them to understand the game and make good decisions. They have to execute the offense, take control of the offense. They have to take leadership on the field. The guys have to follow him. They have to have all those things wrapped up. To be a successful quarterback, they have to have the physical tools, but those other things, as well. A lot of learning has to go on them to be able to accomplish that.”
Mays isn’t looking at the big picture just yet.
“Most people would say, at this point, they’re fighting for their spot to be the No. 1 guy,” he said. “Honestly, that’s not in my mind right now. We have so many months before that can be determined. I just want to get better every day. We’re installing a new offense and my main goal right now is to get a firm grasp of that offense and make sure everyone is on the same page. I want to go to camp with us hitting on all cylinders.”
VanGorder is not only trying to get a grasp of a completely different system, but a completely different team.
“My goal is to come in and get better every day,” he said. “I’ve got to get to know the guys. I’ve only been here a little more than a month. The quarterback has to be the leader for the team. Only one guy can be the quarterback. I’ll work hard every day and things will straighten themselves out.”
Pelini won’t make a decision before fall practice begins.
“They have to put it out there, put it on film every day,” Pelini said. “Somebody might come out of the spring ahead. We’ll evaluate them and see what we have to work on. There’s a lot of practice before us before we have to make that decision. I’m glad we have some talented guys who are going to compete with each other and who will make each other better.”