Unknowns abound as Western Illinois opens season on the road

Henry Ogala (7) and Nick Davenport (15) are two of the candidates for starting quarterback. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

By Dan Verdun

Many of the unknowns regarding Western Illinois football will be revealed Thursday night at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

The Leathernecks begin the 2022 season with a nearly completely overhauled roster led by a new coaching staff headed by WIU graduate Myers Hendrickson.

Gone is record-setting quarterback Connor Sampson and his top receivers from a year ago. Who takes the snaps in the opener remains a mystery as Hendrickson has kept the starter’s name under wraps.

WIU has seven quarterbacks on its roster. However, it’s likely that either graduate student Henry Ogala, senior Drake Day or junior Nick Davenport will get the starting nod.

This week’s opponent

UT Martin enters the season ranked No. 15 in the AFCA Coaches Top 25 and No. 18 in the Stats Perform Top 25. The Skyhawks, 10-3 last year, advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs after defeating Missouri State in the opening round.

“(It’s) very difficult,” UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson said of preparing for an opponent with so many unknowns. “It’s a problem. There will be some things that we have to adjust to during the game.”

(6:30 p.m. kickoff, TV: ESPN-Plus)

One matchup to watch

WIU’s offense will go against a highly respected UT Martin defense. The Skyhawks boast two preseason All-Americans in linebacker John H. Ford II and safety Deven Sims. Ford was also named OVC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

Quick hits

While UT Martin is the defending Ohio Valley Conference champion and has been picked to win the league crown this fall, Western Illinois was voted to finish last in the 11-team Missouri Valley Football Conference . . . WIU returns kicker Mason Laramie, who made 32 points-after-touchdowns last season as well as booting eight field goals, including a game-winner against Youngstown State . . . While the two schools have only met one time prior to Thursday, a 56-0 Western Illinois win in 2003, Leatherneck defensive back JJ Ross has played against UT Martin twice already in his career. Prior to transferring to WIU, Ross played at Eastern Illinois, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.

What’s at stake?

WIU has not won a season opener since 2017 when the Leathernecks throttled Tennessee Tech 41-14 en route to an 8-4 record and playoff berth.

One response to “Unknowns abound as Western Illinois opens season on the road”

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