Nov. 17, 2010
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
He faced off against him in kid league games and later on in high school, and here is what 'Cat running back Mike Trumpy remembers of quarterback Evan Watkins. "He's a great player," he remembers. "The thing is he ran all over our team both years. He didn't throw as much. He ran all over our team. I think that's the biggest thing that no one understands. He actually is a pretty mobile quarterback even at 6-6, 245 pounds. He's a great player and a great athlete."
"They did. They did. And that's the thing everybody forgets about," 'Cat offensive coordinator Mick McCall will later agree, thinking back to those meetings between Watkins-and-Glenbard North and Trumpy-and-Wheaton North. "He's this big kid that's got a strong arm and everything. But he ran the football when he was in high school and that's the reason we took him. He wasn't just a drop back quarterback. He was a multi-threat quarterback who could run around, and he's a big ol' body. So that's probably going to be the difference between Dan (Persa) and Evan. How Evan's going to run the football compared to how Dan ran the football."
The spotlight, with Persa's season-ending injury against Iowa, has swung not only onto Watkins, the redshirt freshman who will lead the 'Cats into Wrigley Field on Saturday for their showdown with Illinois. It is also trained, to a lesser degree, on McCall, who both coaches the quarterbacks and choreographs the offense they lead. That possibility was already ripe given the circumstances that suddenly confronted this team. But it was made certain last Monday when head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "I think (Watkins is) confident because of the way he's been coached and the way he's taken to Mick's coaching. Mick, he's demanding on those quarterbacks. But their relationships are so strong, and the bonds are so strong, because of the way Mick's able to communicate with those guys."
"I think the biggest thing I try to do is simplify things," McCall will say when asked how he goes about grooming a quarterback. "We try to do the mechanics the same way all the way through so that becomes second nature. Then as far as learning the offense, it's really very, very simple. They've just got to know if they've got a hot, how many steps they're supposed to take on their drop, or where they're supposed to be rolling or moving. And then who they're looking at on the defense. And then the progression of receivers. They've got, 'One, two, three, dump it down; one, two, three, run it.' For the most part, I just try to simplify it and direct their eyes as much as I can. And those guys learn by repetition and sitting in the meetings and going through things all the time because it's the same, it's the same, it's the same, over and over again."
How far along is Watkins in his learning process?
McCall, a pleasant man, laughs. "We're going to find out on Saturday. But, no. He's done a great job. I said at the beginning of the year, I said he just keeps on growing up right before our eyes. And we're going to find out here on Saturday. We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a great opportunity. It's an exciting time."
Not that he's going to reveal the game plan. But how will the offense be tweaked for Watkins?
"I don't know if we tweak so much. We just go back in and look, 'OK, who do we have playing? And what can our guys do well? And what are they giving us off the film?' We're attacking them just like we would have if we had Dan. That's where we're at with this. We don't have any, 'OK, this is an Evan throw.' This is what we would have done no matter who was the quarterback. We're going to play with what we have and go. That's the only thing we can do, and that's why we believe in our system. It's conceptual, we believe in it, our guys believe in it, and we're going to go play. . . We've been grooming Evan to do certain things and he's been getting our general offense down to where he's comfortable with it and we'll see what we've got when we come out Saturday. It's going to be kind of fun."
It sounds as if he sort of digs being thrown into a situation like this?
Again he laughs. "It's always planning for that moment, no matter what. He's always been only one play away. And the other two young guys (freshmen quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter) are only one play away now. So, OK, here we go. Now they've got to get ready a little bit faster than maybe we wanted them to. You always want a chance for a kid to have an opportunity. It's too bad what happened to Dan. But now it's Evan's opportunity, and that's a great thing for him."
But isn't this all a challenge for him as well?
"Oh, sure, sure. You always look for challenges. It's not like we didn't have one anyway. We've got Illinois to play against. But anytime you have that opportunity, you don't think about it. You just go. That's how we've dealt with it. I feel bad for Dan. But don't have time to worry about it. Got to get on and get the next guy ready to go. That's how we've thought about this whole thing."
Does he see that confidence in Watkins alluded to by Fitzgerald?
"I think he's got some confidence, some big confidence in him. And I also think he's very excited about having this opportunity. Anytime a quarterback, if he doesn't have a little confidence, a little swagger about him, he wouldn't be in the situation he's in. We wouldn't have him in this situation. This is his opportunity. We'll see what happens."
Trumpy says this when asked if he expects more work with the inexperienced Watkins under center: "I have no idea. I just have to come in prepared for anything. I'm sure there's going to be a different sort of game plan, obviously, because he's a different quarterback. So I just have to be ready for anything."
Fitzgerald says this when asked about how his team might game plan with an untested quarterback as its leader: "The way we look at things, you open our offensive staff room, it's always players, formations, plays. That's how we look at it philosophically in our entire football program. So we're going to do what our players do best. . . It's somewhat of a simplistic formula. It's not, 'Hey, this is what we do and either you fit or you don't.' We're going to make it tailor-made for what those guys do best."
And finally the offensive lineman Pat Ward, like Trumpy a classmate of Watkins, says this when asked how he (Watkins) manifests his apparent sang-froid: "Just the way he comes into the huddle, you can just tell he's confident in his abilities, he knows he can lead this team, he knows he can go out and do anything we ask him to do. He has all the tools to be a complete quarterback, and we have complete faith in him. . . We're going out with the same attitude that we do every week. We're training like it's a regular game, like nothing's changed. Obviously the personnel will be different. But we're going to go out, we're going to play the same way, we have the same confidence in ourselves, we're just going to go out and do what we do."
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