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Three GWFC Quarterbacks Listed Among Top Returnees By The Sports Network

UC Davis senior QB Jon Grant led the Aggies to the impressive win over Stanford.

UC Davis senior QB Jon Grant led the Aggies to the impressive win over Stanford.

May 25, 2006

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - If I-AA followers want to satisfy their football fix with less than 100 days until the 2006 season begins, they can start with a pair of good debates about the quarterback position.

The first involves the intriguing conversation that all fans love: Who's the best?

Three quarterbacks from the Great West Football Conference are listed among the top returning I-AA signal callers by Matt Dougherty of The Sports Network . UC Davis senior Jon Grant (6-2, 205) leads the way at No. 4, while North Dakota State junior Steve Walker (6-1, 210) is No. 17 and Cal Poly sophomore Matt Brennan (6-2, 205) is listed under the "Stars in the Making?" category.

Dougherty provided this capsule on the GWFC quarterbacks: "Though Grant had a few stinkers in 2005, he directs a potentially explosive passing offense with good receivers and has the ability for a real breakout season in 2006. Grant was very solid as a sophomore in 2004, as he led the Aggies to a 6-4 record with 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 2,512 yards passing. Grant threw for 2,873 yards in 2005, but he tossed 14 interceptions against only 13 touchdowns. Grant notched four 300-yard games in 2005 to boost his career total to six, and had a reasonable 58 percent completion rate a year ago. But Grant needs to avoid the interception bug to ascend into stardom. He threw three interceptions in losses to New Hampshire, Portland State and Stephen F. Austin in 2005, and tossed four picks in an ugly loss at Portland State two years ago. Grant has shown the ability to become a star, and could lead the Aggies to a big season if he can be a little more consistent and avoid the picks."

"Walker made his first big splash as a freshman, when he came on late in the season to lead North Dakota State by tossing 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions. He built on that success for a solid campaign in 2005, throwing for 1,781 yards with 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions."

"Brennan came on for an injured Anthony Garnett with three games remaining in the 2005 season, and did endure his share of struggles with seven interceptions and a completion percentage below 50. But he also led the Mustangs to a win at Missoula, and that type of victory can help a quarterback grow up in a hurry."

In one corner, there's New Hampshire's Ricky Santos, who is on track to approach I-AA passing records with two more seasons at the helm for the Wildcats. Santos lifted the Wildcats to a second consecutive playoff berth and the No. 1 seed in the I-AA playoffs, and has already accounted for more than 7,000 passing yards and 70 touchdowns in two seasons.

But there's also Northern Iowa's Eric Sanders. Sanders took over halfway through the 2004 season and missed some time with an injury in 2005, so the statistics are not as extraordinary. But Sanders has emerged as a proven winner, with a 16-4 mark as a starter and only two losses in games he completed against I-AA opponents. And he does have that playoff win to hold over Santos.

After that, no impartial fan could give the No. 1 in I-AA nod to any other returning quarterback. Sure, new stars can emerge, and a few talented I-A transfers could post big numbers if they live up to the hype and end up changing the complexion of the debate by the end of the year. But there aren't any other quarterbacks with the credentials of Santos and Sanders right now.

And that's where we encounter a second interesting debate. After Santos and Sanders, who's next on the list?

There are some candidates, but the departures of stars like Erik Meyer, Bruce Eugene, Richie Williams, Travis Lulay and Barrick Nealy leave mostly unproven or inconsistent players vying for top spots on the I-AA quarterback food chain.

The most proven player is James Madison's Justin Rascati, who has a national championship to his credit but rarely has to win games with his arm. Players like Jon Grant, Anton Clarkson and Josh Greco have shown the potential to dominate games, but also have a penchant for throwing interceptions.

At least half a dozen quarterbacks could make a case for the coveted No. 3 spot in the preseason. Below, I'll throw my two cents in on the debate for preseason recognition for the I-AA quarterback crop, and also look at some of the possible emerging stars and first-year quarterbacks to watch in 2006.

Top Returning Quarterbacks in I-AA
1. Ricky Santos, New Hampshire (Jr., 6-2, 215)
2. Eric Sanders, Northern Iowa (Jr., 6-1, 190)
3.Justin Rascati, James Madison (Sr., 6-2, 220)
4. Jon Grant, UC Davis (Sr., 6-2, 205)
5. Anton Clarkson, Hofstra (Sr., 6-0, 225)
6. Steve LaFalce, Western Illinois (Sr., 6-1, 210)
7. Luke Drone, Illinois State (Jr., 6-2, 200)
8.Josh Greco, Eastern Kentucky (Jr., 6-2, 200)
9. Josh Johnson, San Diego (Jr., 6-3, 180)
10. Jason Murrietta, Northern Arizona (Sr., 6-1, 215)
11. Tom Zetts, Youngstown State (Jr., 6-1, 210)
12.Colin Drafts, Charleston Southern (Sr., 6-3, 200)
13.Aries Nelson, Mississippi Valley State (Sr., 6-3, 215)
14.Marvin Burroughs, Villanova (Jr., 6-1, 215)
15. Ron Whitcomb, Maine (Sr., 6-2, 220)

Next Five: 16. Justin Haddix, Western Kentucky (Sr., 6-1, 210)
17. Steve Walker, North Dakota State (Jr., 6-1, 210)
18.Sedale Threatt, Lehigh (Jr., 6-2, 190)
19. Cleveland McCoy, South Carolina State (Jr., 6-2, 210)
20. Joseph Lewis, Southern (Jr., 5-10, 190)

Stars in the Making? These sophomores-to-be might not be stars just yet, but offered a potential glimpse into the future with a solid freshman season and hope for more in 2006: Jacob Phillips, William & Mary (So, 6-3, 210)
Sean Schaefer, Towson (So., 6-1, 215)
Liam Coen, Massachusetts (So, 6-2, 205)
Brandon Landers, Grambling State (So, 6-0, 190)
Matt Brennan, Cal Poly (So, 6-2, 205)

First-Year Starters to Watch With so many top quarterbacks from 2005 moving on, some potential playoff teams will call on a first-year quarterback under center. Five starters have big shoes to fill, but have the potential for a smooth transition into the lineup: Trey Elder, Appalachian State (Jr. 6-1, 190)
Renaldo Gray, Furman (Jr., 6-0, 225)
Cory Carpenter, Montana State (Jr., 6-2, 215)
Chase Wasson, Texas State (Jr., 5-11, 190)
Nick Hill, Southern Illinois (Jr., 6-3, 200)

Transfers to Watch Matt Gutierrez, Idaho State (Sr., 6-4, 231/Michigan); Josh Swogger, Montana (Sr., 6-5, 255/Washington State); Joe Flacco, Delaware (Jr., 6-6, 230/Pittsburgh); Jack Rolovich, Montana State (Jr., 6-3, 215/Hawaii); Jimmy Oliver, Jackson State (Jr., 6-1, 175/Pearl River CC)

Top Mid-Major Quarterbacks Johnson, Kevin Hoyng, Dayton (Sr., 6-0, 190), Brian Boland, Monmouth (Sr., 6-1, 210), Anthony Doria, St. Francis (PA) (Sr., 6-1, 205), Michael Jump, LaSalle (Jr., 6-3, 200)