EIU quarterback competition continues as fall camp nears halfway mark
CHARLESTON—The competition to become the starting Eastern Illinois quarterback for the Sept. 1 season opener is a three-man race, according to head coach Chris Wilkerson.
“We’ve got three guys that have done a phenomenal job competing all preseason so far, two were here during the spring and we’ve added a third here in the summer,” Wilkerson told Prairie State Pigskin following Saturday night’s practice at O’Brien Field.
Redshirt sophomore Jonah O’Brien and redshirt freshman Zach Weir are the returnees. Senior Dom Shoffner transferred from FBS Charlotte following spring practice.
“Dom, Jonah and Zach have all shown the ability to lead our offense up and down the field and most importantly, take care of the football,” Wilkerson said. “We just finished our fourth rotation with each of the guys going with the first group (offense).
“We’ll sit down and watch the film and see where we’re at, but at some point in the next week we’re probably going to get down to where it’s going to be two guys who will get a few more reps and then obviously in the near future make a decision for Sept. 1.”
The Panthers open the season on Thursday, Sept. 1 at FBS member Northern Illinois. The home opener is Sept. 10 against Chattanooga, a non-conference FCS opponent.
Breaking down the QB race
“They’ve all got unique skills, but they can all operate the entire playbook,” Wilkerson said. “It’s just a matter of then tweaking what we do with each of their strengths.
“We’re scheduled to scrimmage next Saturday (Aug. 20) and the following Tuesday (Aug. 23) and then we’ll do preparation for the Sept. 1 game.”
When spring practice ended in April, Wilkerson acknowledged Weir as the team’s No. 1 quarterback yet also noted the competition was far from over.
Weir, from Grafton, Wisc., completed 32-of-66 throws for EIU in 2021. He had one touchdown and was intercepted four times. Weir is listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.
O’Brien began 2019 as the EIU scout team quarterback but played the final home game of the season against Southeast Missouri, completing 12-of-21 pass attempts for 84 yards and one interception.
O’Brien, listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, transferred to Colorado State where he sat out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The Bartlett High School graduate appeared in one game for Colorado State in 2021 before returning to Eastern Illinois this spring.
“It was a little weird at first coming back, but (now) I feel at home like I did before,” O’Brien said. “We compete every day. The competition makes us all better, so the more, the better.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Shoffner began his collegiate career at North Carolina Central and also played at Monroe (NY) Junior College prior to his time at Charlotte.
According to his biographical sketch on the Charlotte athletic website, Shoffner missed the 2021 season with an injury. He served as Charlotte’s backup quarterback during pandemic-shortened, six-game season in which he played in four games.
“It’s an open competition (here). Everyone is working. I love this quarterback room. We all bond very well. We all know there’s one guy that’s going to take the job, so we’re all 10 toes down and working,” Shoffner said.
The quarterback room is under the direction of offensive coordinator and QB coach Joe Davis, who was hired by EIU in December 2021. Davis previously served as associate head coach/offensive coordinator at the University of Albany from 2018 to 2021.
Davis’s Albany offense broke 21 school records during those four years. In the course of that time Davis also coached freshman All-America quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, who verbally committed to EIU in May only to then sign with FBS Akron of the Mid-American Conference.
South Bend native and former University of Virginia quarterback Ira Armstead II transferred to EIU in January as a dual-threat QB option.
However, Armstead, a former three-star recruit by ESPN.com and 247sports.com listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, has been moved to wide receiver.
“It’s been an awesome transition,” Wilkerson said. “Ira and I had a discussion at the end of summer. His biggest thing was just trying to get on the field and compete as quickly as possible and help our team as quickly as possible.
“Because of his knowledge of the offense and because of his athletic skill set we thought the easiest transition would be to wide receiver. He has certainly shown some flashes of greatness. He is a big, strong, fast young man. We’re excited about his growth and potential at wide receiver.”
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Blog co-authors Barry Bottino and Dan Verdun bring years of experience covering collegiate athletics. Barry has covered college athletes for more than two decades in his “On Campus” column, which is published weekly by Shaw Media. Dan has written four books about the state’s football programs–“NIU Huskies Football” (released in 2013), “EIU Panthers Football (2014), “ISU Redbirds” (2016) and “SIU Salukis Football” (2017).
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