Quarterback Blainey Dowling led Chicago Mount Carmel to a 14-0 season and a state championship. (Photo via Twitter.com)
By Dan Verdun
The quest for a quarterback continues.
It’s been a decade since Jimmy Garoppolo quarterbacked Eastern Illinois into the national FCS limelight. Since that time 17 different players have taken snaps for the Panthers.
Only one — Jalen Whitlow — earned (second team) all-conference honors and took EIU to the playoffs.
As with nearly all FCS programs, EIU has brought in transfers (Whitlow came from FBS Kentucky), high school recruits and walk-ons at the position.
The Panther pursuit continued with last Wednesday’s early national signing day, inking Illinois prep quarterback Blainey Dowling to a letter of intent.
Dowling led Chicago Mount Carmel to the IHSA 7A state championship in November. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,030 yards this fall.
“Blainey Dowling is somebody we are thrilled about adding to our program, let alone our quarterback room,” EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson said. “(He’s) a winner that plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a guy that’s going to be the first in the building and the last to leave.”
Dowling will join an EIU quarterback room thin on experience.
Redshirt junior Jonah O’Brien, who played in first eight games before suffering a season-ending injury, returns as the incumbent starter.
The two other quarterbacks who saw meaningful playing time — graduate student Dom Shoffner and underclassman Zach Weir — entered the transfer portal following the season.
“Our goal, as we started this process, was to get to four scholarship quarterbacks,” Wilkerson said, “and then we are certainly blessed to have three walk-on quarterbacks here that have been very competitive.”
Illinois prep recruiting analyst “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran was impressed with Dowling’s growth.
“The progress he made between his junior year and his senior year is one of the biggest jumps I’ve seen in a long time,” O’Halloran said. “He’s always had the physical tools. He’s a strong kid who can run when he’s flushed out of the pocket.
“He played with a level of confidence I don’t think anyone saw coming. He throws a really good deep ball. He can make basically every throw that you need.”
Dowling is rated a two-star recruit by Rivals.com.
“He plays a position that often gets overlooked in that offers are made so early,” O’Halloran said. “He’s a victim of a position group that your senior year seems to be looked at less and less every year.
“He’s a kid that I think schools will look back on and say, ‘what were we thinking?’ He’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
EIU offensive coordinator Joe Davis is excited to have Dowling in camp next fall.
“Blainey is the ultimate competitor,” Davis said. “He is a winner who possesses the decision-making and accuracy we want to build our offense around.”
Dowling, the Chicago Catholic League MVP, is a finalist for the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.
Athletes in action
EIU’s early signing class breaks down into nine high school recruits and seven junior college transfers. Last week, Prairie State Pigskin highlighted key additions to the offensive line, receiving corps and secondary.
Collegiate coaches are also in pursuit of “athletes,” players who possess unique skills to be utilized in a variety of ways. EIU believes it found a pair, one from the prep ranks and one from the junior college circuit.
Isaiah Richardson played wide receiver and linebacker for Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga. Like Dowling, he played a key role in his team posting an undefeated season culminating in a state championship.
“He has a fantastic athletic skill set with great length,” Wilkerson said of the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Richardson. “The versatility that he has will allow him to make a tremendous impact quickly.”
EIU defensive coordinator Adam Gristick said, “Isaiah is the prototypical player we’re looking for on defense here at EIU. He’s a fantastic athlete with great size, skill and speed. His versatility will give him a chance to make an immediate impact this fall.”
Texas native Terrance Gipson joins the Panthers from East Los Angeles College after beginning his career at Southern Methodist University.
“We talked about productivity and having dynamic athletic ability, Terrence brings all that to the table,” Wilkerson said.
Though he played quarterback this past fall in junior college, EIU projects Gipson as a running back.
“(He’s) bigger than some of the backs we’ve had in the past, but a threat to go the distance every time he touches the football,” Wilkerson said of the 6-foot, 185-pounder.
“Terrance is a versatile athlete from a strong football background. He is elusive and dynamic with the ball in his hands,” EIU running backs coach Turner Pugh said. “We’re looking forward to having Terrance on campus very soon.”
Junior college players have until Jan. 15, 2023, to sign national letters of intent, according to njca.org. The spring signing date is Feb. 1, 2023.
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