CEDAR FALLS — There is no lack of ability or skill among the three quarterbacks battling to be the University of Northern Iowa’s starting quarterback next season.
Jacob Keller was a two-sport star at Fenwick High School in suburban Chicago and could have played basketball or football collegiately.
Des Moines Lincoln graduate Will McElvain was the first Iowa high school player in the state to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a single season when he did it in 2017.
True freshman and early enrollee Nate Martens was so highly thought of that Syracuse offered him a scholarship as a sophomore.
That much is what head coach Mark Farley knows.
Who will direct the Panther offense on Aug. 31 at Jack Trice Stadium against Iowa State is something Farley does not know.
UNI concluded its seventh spring practice Wednesday inside the UNI-Dome and Farley said that answer really is unimportant at this stage of the game, especially with eight more spring practices and a fourth candidate, three-star recruit Justin Fomby of Georgia, set to join the mix this summer.
“We are getting our offense ready, and we are getting the players in our offense ready,” Farley said. “Who is the one that takes the first snap, we will figure that out later. Right now we are here to get these three guys ready to play and get them to work with the other 10 guys with them.
“We are bringing along a football team, not individuals.”
All three of the current candidates say it is about getting the best guy ready. Whoever that is, they all want him to succeed.
“I feel like we have been doing a good job,” said Keller, who will be a redshirt sophomore. “We just have to get better with the small things ... footwork, reads. Whomever is out there, we want him to do good.”
Keller is the only quarterback among the group who has completed a pass in a game. He appeared in two games last fall completing his only pass for 18 yards.
McElvain stands only 5-foot-10, but has a strong arm and is fleet of foot. He passed for 6,162 yards at Des Moines Lincoln while starting all four years and was originally headed to Iowa State as a preferred walk-on before joining the Panthers.
“Nah, it doesn’t bother me,” McElvain said of people saying he is too short. “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.”
Martens, a left-hander, may have the strongest arm of all three. He led DeSmet, Mo., to one of its best seasons in recent history, passing for 2,001 yards and 22 touchdowns during a 9-3 season.
Martens began taking advanced classes as a junior with the plan to graduate early from high school and get an early start on fulfilling his dream of playing college football.
He says the transfer from high school to college has been fairly smooth.
“It was real fast at the beginning, but it kind of slowed down after a while,” Martens said. “The most difficult thing is we install things every single day. In high school you are not used to that.
“And, it is how fast things go. But once you get out there, you kind of calm yourself down and it is just football.”
Farley said all three have had their moments this spring, but the main message has been to not sweat the small stuff and trust the process.
“All of them do need to have a sense of urgency,” Farley said. “But all of them do not need to worry about making errors. They need to be aggressive, think quickly and live with their choice. One play will not make or break anybody.”
That is what the players have heard.
“I think what it will take is showing that consistency .. taking care of the ball, getting the ball where it is supposed to be and into the hands of our playmakers,” McElvain said.
“Jacob is smooth. He helped me out with a lot of stuff. We have a lot of the same characteristics. Nate, he is a really smart kid. He has picked it up a lot quicker this year than I did last year.
“All of us, we’ve just got to shrug off the little stuff, take little wins and roll with it.”