New Illinois State QB Annexstad gives Redbirds’ passing game needed boost

Minnesota transfer QB Zack Annexstad helped his Red team beat the White squad, 21-20, in the annual ISU spring game. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

NORMAL – Zack Annexstad arrived at Illinois State three months ago as the linchpin to improving the Redbirds’ passing offense.

But the junior transfer from the University of Minnesota sees that effort as more than a one-man job.

“As a quarterback, you have to perform, but It’s all 11 guys on the field,” Annexstad said after helping his Red team defeat the White squad, 21-20, in ISU’s annual spring scrimmage Saturday. “The defense helps me. If they get stops, it helps me. Offensively, guys making plays for me helps. I have to give guys a chance, but you saw a few guys today make really nice catches for me that I didn’t put in the best spot.”

The Redbirds have managed only 22 passing touchdowns in the past 30 games. They ranked 115th nationally in passing offense (124.8 yards per game) among 123 FCS teams last fall.

Annexstad started seven games in 2018 as a true freshman for the Gophers, completing 52% of his passes and throwing for nine touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards.

For the past three seasons, he served as the backup to Minnesota starter Tanner Morgan.

On Saturday, Annexstad was 18 of 34 passing for 124 yards and two TDs, including a 12-yard strike to sophomore running back Pha’Leak Brown midway through the first quarter and a 3-yard scoring pass to senior tight end Bryson Deming late in the third quarter to put the Red team ahead 21-7.

“The dude can straight up sling the ball,” Deming said. “His accuracy is at a different level. We are very fortunate to have him, and we’re excited for the season.”

Sophomore running back Cole Mueller, who narrowly missed 1,000 rushing yards a year ago, practiced all spring but did not play in the scrimmage.

Redshirt freshman Wenkers Wright, who played for both teams Saturday, piled up 69 rushing yards on 19 carries and five receptions for 105 yards. He scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter for the White team and a took a swing pass 68 yards for a score for the Red team in the fourth quarter.

An improved passing game will make Mueller and Wright even more effective this fall, which kicks off Sept. 3 when Illinois State travels to the University of Wisconsin.

Over the next five months, Annexstad said the biggest goal is to grow the rapport with his teammates.

“It’s just continuing to build chemistry with guys,” he said “I’ve been around these guys a lot. Now it’s, ‘How does this guy run this route? How does this guy run his route?’ It’s building confidence with guys as we go through the summer.

“Every single day I’ve been out here, I’ve just been stressing, ‘Let’s get better today.’ That’s the biggest thing. Not stress about the negatives that happen, but just keep working,” he said.

Deming said Annexstad has stood out since the moment he stepped on campus.

“Right when came in here, he took things over,” Deming said. “He’s a great leader. He wanted us together. He wanted us to start throwing. Every chance we got, we were going 2-3 times a week and getting those crucial reps when you can’t be outside on the field.”

Though the Redbirds hope to rebound from their 4-7 record of a year ago, Annexstad said continuous improvement is important in order to win more.

“Obviously, everyone wants to win every game,” he said. “But you can’t look at it like that. Did this team do the best that we could do? We have to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Did we give 100% effort in every single game, every single practice?’ If we do that every single day, we’ll like our results.”

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