Multiple quarterbacks are still competing for the Leathernecks’ starting job for the Sept. 1 season opener at UT-Martin. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)
By Dan Verdun
MACOMB—Sixteen days from his head coaching debut for Western Illinois, Myers Hendrickson and his staff are still evaluating their roster and depth charts remain in flux.
“A big chunk of it will be set this next coming week,” Hendrickson said at Tuesday’s WIU media day held on the school’s campus.
There’s plenty of reason for that. Hired in December, Hendrickson, a 33-year-old Western Illinois graduate, had just 58 players available for April’s annual Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game.
Hendrickson’s time in Macomb has been consumed by hiring his staff, building a roster and preparing WIU for its Sept. 1 season opener at Tennessee-Martin, a nonconference opponent that advanced into the second round of the FCS playoffs a season ago.
Following a Monday scrimmage, the Leatherneck coaching staff “has been grading the film very diligently the last 24 hours,” Hendrickson said.
“We’re making some decisions, installing more special teams situations . . . players have been competing hard in all three phases (offense, defense and special teams),” Hendrickson explained.
Hendrickson played wide receiver for the Leathernecks from 2009-11 before beginning his coaching career. Hendrickson comes to WIU after a highly successful stint at Kansas Wesleyan — an NAIA school in Salina — where he posted a 30-4 record, which included two conference titles.
WIU has a recent history of strong quarterback play. In fact, for nearly the last decade, Leatherneck fans had a pretty good idea who the starter would be as each new season approached.
Case in point: Beginning in 2013, Trenton Norvell was QB1 for two seasons. Sean McGuire, who later played in the Canadian Football League, then held the position for three record-setting seasons. Most recently, Connor Sampson flourished as yet another record-setting starting quarterback from 2019 through last fall.
This season, there is no clear heir apparent.
“It’s not set, and that won’t be set until closer to game week,” Hendrickson said Tuesday.
Western Illinois lists six quarterbacks on its roster.
Graduate student Henry Ogala, a 6-foot-3, 219-pounder from New Jersey, is the lone candidate who has thrown a pass for WIU.
However, even that is limited. Sampson played every snap for the Leathernecks last season; Ogala was 2-for-5 for 17 yards in a backup role during the Covid-spring 2020 season.
Senior Drake Day hails from nearby West Burlington, Iowa. Day — 6-foot-3 and 186 pounds — transferred to WIU from FBS Memphis in 2021. Day spent the 2019 season on the Iowa Western Community College football team before transferring to Memphis, where he spent one season but did not play.
Junior Clay Bruno, listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, is another candidate. Bruno led downstate Rochester High School to a 5A state championship his senior year.
Nick Davenport, also a junior, appeared in three games last season but none at quarterback. Davenport, listed at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, is from Brookville, Kan.
Jack Perry, a third junior listed at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, hails from Mountain View, Calif. Perry spent a season at the University of Cincinnati but did not see any game action. Prior to that, Perry played at College of San Mateo, a junior college in California.
There is also one underclassmen at the position. Sophomore Dylan Tabone, from Ontario, Canada, is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds.
Getting to know you
Jack Whyte is a senior WIU tight end from Glen Ellyn who played his prep football for Glenbard West. He caught 10 passes and scored two touchdowns last season.
“It’s definitely a little bit of an adjustment at times, but each of them brings a very specific talent,” Whyte said of the quarterbacks. “They’re all really good players and getting to know them off the field definitely helps build up that connection and that relationship so when you go out on the field it doesn’t matter who is in at quarterback. I have faith in all of them.”
Ty O’Janovac is a 6-foot-3, 285-pound junior offensive lineman from Joliet Catholic Academy. He has made nine starts in his collegiate career.
“It’s a good thing getting to know all of them on and off the field,” O’Janovac said of the quarterbacks. “It helps when you take a lot of reps with them before practice even starts. The big thing about that is going through pre-practice with all of them. It’s been going really well.”