JOLIET – Football coaches usually can expect to see a few good battles for positions when they open camp.
But what they don’t anticipate is a three-way competition for a spot, especially at starting quarterback.
However, that’s the case facing coach Joe Curry and his staff at the University of St. Francis as the 2014 campaign draws near.
Senior Ryne Van Gennep and juniors Trace Wanless and Mitch Brozovich all are in competition to determine who will be under center when the 20th-ranked Saints kick off their season Sept. 6 against Olivet Nazarene at Memorial Stadium.
Van Gennep, a Lincoln-Way East graduate, has been at USF throughout his five-year career. Wanless, from Glenbard South, is in his third season after transferring from Saint Xavier. Brozovich, a Minooka graduate, is new to the school after transferring from Minnesota State.
It’s a far cry from recent years when the Saints relied heavily on E.J. White to lead the way. During the past four years, White threw for more than 10,000 yards and accounted for 96 percent of the 1,400-plus passes USF attempted.
“The bottom line is that we’re going to be pretty darn good at the quarterback position,” Curry said. “Pretty much what we’ve been doing in camp is circling the three of them in with our starting units and trying to grade them and figure out who’s the best guy. They’ve been competing every single day and know that if they have a bad practice, they move down the depth chart. So that competition has made our football team a ton better.
“This is a problem that we haven’t had here. We had (Morris graduate) John Goolsby and E.J. White, who were both our guy. Now we’re in a situation where it’s ‘Who’s next?’ You can’t replace an E.J. White but I don’t know if there’s going to be much of a dropoff when you see us play quarterback. This is the first time since I’ve been here that we had this type of a situation at any position. At the NAIA level, you don’t have three quality guys at the same spot.
“They all bring us something different. Ryne is very smart and puts the ball where we want him to. Trace has a great arm and makes a ton of plays, like he did last year for us at receiver. And Mitch is great in the run game and throws the ball OK and is right there. I think the thing that determines who wins the job is which one does not turn the football over because that’s going to make our team better and give us a chance to win games.”
Beside competing for the quarterback spot, Brozovich is just happy to be playing a whole lot closer to his family and friends.
“This is very unusual and it’s probably the only position on our team where three guys are battling it out,” Brozovich said. “You only get limited chances in practice, so you have to make them count and if you don’t, then you’re kind of out of luck.
“All three of us are decent athletes, so they can pretty much stick us anywhere on the field. I missed my family quite a bit being seven hours away. I like how on the field it’s a battle but off the field we’re friends. And I like the camaraderie of the players and coaches.”
For their part, the trio is excited about the competition and believe, like their coach, that the unusual situation will only make the Saints better.
“With everything up for grabs this year, it makes it fun,” said Van Gennep. “Once E.J. left, we all knew that the spot was up for grabs. E.J. was a great quarterback and I had the pleasure of backing him up for four years, so I got to know the offense.
“At the end of the day, when we’re at meetings, we’re friends, but when we’re on the field, it’s business and we all understand that. The expectations for this year are high but they’re not overwhelming. We want to have fun, get after it and be the best team that we can be.”
Wanless caught 48 passes for 494 yards and had five touchdowns, thanks to hookups with White a year ago, to earn all-conference honors. Now, he hopes to throw to returning All-American Troy Torrence, who like him, started his career at Saint Xavier.