By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on April 20, 2009
All eyes are on the man under center.
Even though the quarterback lines up with 10 guys who make his mission possible and he is constantly battling another unit of 11 bruisers, no position in sports may be more revered, or more openly criticized for that matter.
While Sunday’s Hillsdale College spring football game did nothing to convince spectators that Michigan weather can be anything but plain miserable this time of year, it was a perfect rainy day to take stock of four Charger QBs as head coach Keith Otterbein tries to guide his team to the top of the GLIAC. If Sunday was any indication, junior to-be Troy Weatherhead is working hard to overcome injury problems and cement his spot as one of the GLIAC’s most reliable gunslingers, while redshirt freshman Anthony Mifsud is already a physical specimen to be reckoned with.
It’s always a luxury to have more than one good option at QB, but the way things are shaping up the Charger coaching staff has plenty of difficult decisions on the near horizon.
Weatherhead and Mifsud, along with the coaches’ son, Brad Otterbein, who will be a junior, and sophomore-to-be Matt Bryan all controlled the snaps for three series Sunday afternoon, just enough of a glimpse to draw some insightful conclusions at the end of Chargers’ spring ball.
With 132 days to go before the team’s road opener at St. Joseph’s College on August 29, here is what Charger fans should know about their favorite gunslingers based on Sunday’s performances.
Waves of anxiety must have swept through the athletic department earlier this semester when Weatherhead broke his leg in an intramural basketball game, fresh off a successful first season in the starting role. It appears everyone can take a deep breath for now though, granted he stays healthy.
Other than a few shaky long balls early on, Weatherhead looked just I like remember him last fall — unshakeable, fairly mobile and blessed with touch that allows him to make almost every throw a QB needs to.
He led the offense to two touchdowns and was only sacked once Sunday, by a Charger front-line that was quick to put pressure on him; and although he nearly threw a pick on a fade route in the back of the end zone, the plays that made you say ‘wow’ easily outweighed the ones that make you shake your head.
He made a pair of beautiful throws into double coverage deep downfield, resulting in 27 and 35 yards bombs to slotman A.J. Kegg and lanky, speedster Andre Holmes.
He was excellent at sustaining drives, his spirals were tight and he looked right at home barking out plays and communicating with teammates.
He completed six of 10 passes in 21 plays Sunday and gave the crowd every reason to believe his 21 TDs against 10 interceptions in 2008 was no fluke.
If he’s not the clear-cut starter come August I expect a bum knee is the only thing holding him back.
Bryan has thrown just three passes so far in his college career, so he is largely an unknown among Charger faithful, but an unknown who coach Otterbein says has a great shot at being the team’s backup.
He started out sharp Sunday, but ultimately came up with an “Incomplete” grade.
He showcased an ability to be effective out of a short-drop, utilizing his extremely quick release, but he didn’t get a chance to air it out at all.
He also got trapped going through progressions a few times, getting sacked twice and Cody Henderson intercepted one of his throws toward the sidelines, the only turnover of the spring game.
His ability to escape the pocket might be a question as well, but a dozen snaps on a wet field isn’t a tell-all test.
Overall his spirals were tight and his throwing motion seemed structurally sound and consistent.
He failed to lead his group on a scoring drive and was two of six passing on the afternoon.
His heart and athleticism cannot and should not be questioned, but the former Hillsdale High School grad still has plenty of things working against him with so much competition at his position.
On Sunday he proved he is a quick decision maker who is a threat with his feet, but he is also still developing as a pocket passer and he isn’t a naturally gifted thrower like his teammates.
Last season he played in seven games, going 10-for-23 for 77 yards and two interceptions and his spring game performance didn’t do a whole lot to explain those numbers one way or another.
On several occasions he went right up the middle of a seam for sizeable gains on the ground, but his one for six passing performance, with two passes deflected, show he has plenty of room to grow.
He threw a couple of wobbly spirals and his release point was inconsistent, but on the run and with his feet firmly planted he was equally effective.
Being the coaches’ kid always brings plenty of undue pressure and Otterbein is no different. He is a great athlete, from a phenomenal local family, but his exact role on this team is still hard to figure out.
The only Charger QB yet to throw a pass in a college football game, may in fact be the most intriguing one on the roster.
The 6-4, former First-Team All-State selection by the Detroit Free Press, looked like he has put on some muscle since coming in as a 183-pound freshman, and he carried himself like a man on a mission.
He threw only six passes, of which he completed just two, thanks in part to two drops, but the way he did so got me excited.
On his first snap in his first spring game he rolled out and delivered a picture-perfect 25- yard strike to Nathan Smith.
He seemed to command the huddle well, and driving his team to a touchdown on his first drive was tangible proof of his success.
He did come up short on one of his throws, but his throwing motion seemed almost effortless and his arm strength appears to be an asset that helped draw attention from Division I FBS schools like Villanova and Richmond a year ago.
He demonstrated a great pocket-presence and had no problem stepping off defenders en route to finding an open receiver.
His size, demeanor and physical skills seem almost too good to be true, but the intangibles and experience Weatherhead offers mean Mifsud may have to use “garbage time” situations next season to prove whether he’s worthy of being more than a two-year starter in his time here.
On paper Mifsud and incoming running back recruit Joe Glendening seem to be the future of the blue-and-white, but knowing Keith Otterbein, he is going to make players earn their spots by competing for jobs in practice, and Otterbein is also loyal to upperclassmen who have levied through countless hours of workouts and drills.
Other HC spring game notes:
• Halfback Vinnie Panizzi scored two rushing touchdowns, including one where he leaped over a wall of lineman into end zone.
• Redshirt freshman tailback Brad Spencer showed off his quick cutback ability and good outside speed with several memorable runs, including a 15-yard touchdown
• Defensive lineman Drew Berube, who will be a senior next season, looked even stronger and faster than last season, something all GLIAC offensive lineman should be scared about.
• Freshman defensive end Kyle Caulkins, a former Hillsdale Hornet like Berube, saw plenty of action and did a good job accelerating through seams in the middle to get to the QB.
• Mark Petro (a senior next year) missed a 45-yard field goal on the only special teams game of the play
• Sophomore tailback Vincent Alentado suffered a “bad break” in the ankle / foot region on the final play of the scrimmage according to several assistant coaches. He got tangled in a pile up and was left on the turf with bones in his right foot drastically fractured. No further information on the injury was yet available.