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Carey: NIU's quarterback race wide open

Matthew Apgar -
NIU head football coach Rod Carey addresses the press during Media Day at Northern Illinois University on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017 in DeKalb.
Matthew Apgar - NIU head football coach Rod Carey addresses the press during Media Day at Northern Illinois University on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017 in DeKalb.

DeKALB – He had been at the lectern for less than a minute when Rod Carey made a guess to a question he felt he was about to get asked.

“Obviously I’m going to get asked the question who’s our quarterback,” said NIU’s fifth-year coach at the school’s media day Friday. “I don’t know yet.

“Even if I knew I probably wouldn’t tell you guys anyways,” Carey said, drawing a few chuckles from the crowd. “You know if I knew I’d probably tell you so I wouldn’t have to answer the question anymore.”

The Huskies are entering camp with a three-way battle at quarterback between junior Ryan Graham, sophomore Daniel Santacaterina and freshman Marcus Childers.

When Drew Hare was hurt early last season, that opened the quarterback spot for Graham, who played in eight games last year and started four. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 680 yards, six interceptions and eight touchdowns.

Santacaterina got some playing time late in the year, coming in at halftime at Eastern Michigan and sparking a comeback. He started the finale at Kent State, a 31-21 Huskies win. Also pushing himself into the race is Childers on the strength of a strong spring.

For the second time in Carey’s tenure, the Huskies enter camp with a three-player battle at quarterback. To replace Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, Matt McIntosh, Hare and Anthony Maddie battled it out in camp, with McIntosh eventually winning – although all three quarterbacks still split time – before getting hurt. Hare took over in the third game.

“We obviously have been through this before back in 2014, replacing Lynch,” Carey said. “We had this same situation where we had three candidates. And it took us a little time to figure out who would be the guy. I don’t know that it’s going to play out that same way. We may have a guy that takes control of it at camp, or it may take us a couple games into the season, it may take us into conference.”

The first question Carey received still was about the quarterback situation, as he was asked to handicap the race.

“You can handicap it on experience, right?” Carey said. “Santa ended the year leading us to a comeback victory. Ryan Graham was in the same boat as Santa was but hit some bumps. Marcus Childers, maybe the first eight to nine practices of spring ball really wasn’t in the competition then the last six or seven really wedged himself in. So if you’re going to handicap it you go off games played. So Ryan’s played the most, Santa played the second most and Childers played the least. But handicap is just that. You still have to go win the job.”

Carey said competition is strong all over the camp – calling it the strength of the team. Right tackle Max Scharping agreed, saying competition makes the team stronger.
“If you don’t [have competition], the passion’s not there,” Scharping said. “It builds the energy and makes it feel more like a game.”

One spot that may have a definite starter, or at least a heavy favorite, is at running back where Jordan Huff returns for his senior year. Last year, he ran 111 times for 703 yards and five scores.

Huff said the team is determined to bounce back from last year – when the Huskies went 4-7 and ended their streak of six straight MAC championship games.

“Everyone has the same mindset – we just want to get this taste out of our mouth,” Huff said. “The main goal is to come every day and work hard, practice hard and focus on Game 1.”

Scharping said the team has grown since last season.

“We don’t want last year, but we’re going to use it as a lesson for this year,” Scharping said. “We have to come out hard every single day, you have to practice the best you can every single day to try and win.”

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