CEDAR FALLS — Mark Farley let the situation play itself out.
By not naming a starting quarterback early in preseason camp, the University of Northern Iowa head coach and his staff hoped a tight, strongly contested competition would follow.
It did, but over the last week, one of the candidates for the position separated himself.
Friday, Farley said redshirt freshman Will McElvain of Des Moines will start for UNI in its regular-season opener next Saturday at Iowa State.
McElvain edged-out sophomore Jacob Keller and true freshmen Justin Fomby and Nate Martens.
“I just think over the course of the preseason, Will is a little farther ahead of Jacob (Keller) at this point,” Farley said.. “He’s earned this opportunity. Now, he’s got to go out, execute and perform like we know he can.”
For most of the fall camp, McElvain and Keller rotated with the No. 1 unit, while Fomby and Martens rotated between the No. 2 and No. 3 units.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound McElvain with a strong arm and quick feet moved ahead late and as of this week was running primarily with the No. 1s with Keller, having one of his best weeks of camp, right on his heels.
“What is great about this camp is we created two really good quarterbacks,” Farley said. “Both of them worked hard, competed hard and now this offense has two quarterbacks prepared to play headed into the Iowa State game.”
Farley, who said he won’t make McElvain available to media until after the game with the Cyclones so he can concentrate on his preparation, said McElvain was excited when told the news.
Two years ago as a senior at Des Moines Lincoln, McElvain was one of the best quarterbacks in the state, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and rushing for 1,000. He became the first player in Class 4A history to accomplish that feat.
McElvain’s play that season was so strong that on Sept. 3, he tweeted his commitment to Iowa State as a preferred walk-on. But in February, after national signing day, McElvain flipped to Northern Iowa.
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He then had a tremendous summer capped by an MVP performance at the Iowa Shrine Game where he threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
Then, McElvain begin wowing the UNI staff upon his arrival on campus.
He immediately began shooting up the depth chart with starter Eli Dunne’s back-up, Colton Howell, nursing a bad shoulder last season, began taking more and more of the No. 2 snaps as the season wore on.
McElvain was so good early on that Farley mentioned him in a press conference before the 2018 season started.
“He is dynamic,” Farley said of McElvain last August. “I think he will be on the table all year. Whether you see him in a game or not, we will see what happens. But Will McElvain is in that thought process should something happen to Eli.”
At 5-foot-11, McElvain’s stature is in stark contrast to Dunne, who went 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. That doesn’t bother Farley, who played with 5-foot-10 All-American quarterback Mike Smith during his days as a linebacker at UNI.
And it certainly doesn’t bother McElvain, who earlier in camp said this about the subject, “Nah, it doesn’t bother me. It’s what I’ve been all my life, so you adjust and play at that height. There is nothing you can do about it.”
While he won’t be available to talk before the ISU game, McElvain said this regarding what he needed to do to win the job:
“I’ve got to go play my game, show that I can make plays and just take care of the ball, understand the offense,” said McElvain. “It’s probably the same thing it is for everybody else.
“It is not like we are being pressed that we have to make plays right now. It is make the right plays, understand what the play is designed to do, and those are the things they want to see.”
Those words were nearly the same as Farley’s when he was asked what McElvain needs to do to have success against Iowa State.
“Execute,” Farley said. “Take care of his possessions in a timely fashion. His timing and that with his offensive teammates is what will make us go.”
And while only one can start, Farley says he feels he ended preseason camp with two starters.
“Jacob (Keller) had a good camp. He is just as important with his role on this team as anybody else,” Farley said. “He’s ready to play, and we need him ready to play.”