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Northern Michigan starting QB battle begins between Scepaniak, Morley

April 10, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head football coach Chris Ostrowsky has spent his entire football career around the quarterback position, from his days under center at Roselle Park High School in New Jersey to his decade as a collegiate assistant coaching the position.

Yet, despite all that personal experience, Ostrowsky steers clear of his gut when it comes time to declare a starter.

For Ostrowsky, the numbers never lie and his gut only comes into play when the race is too close to call.

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University junior quarterback Cody Scepaniak works during a spring practice on Tuesday, April 3 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. He and freshman Ryan Morley are competing this spring — and possibly into the fall — to become the next starting QB for the Wildcats in 2012. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)

"For me, it's going to be about their performance on the field versus my gut," Ostrowsky said. "Whenever that feeling comes up, that's when it is going to come up."

With senior quarterback Carter Kopach graduating at the end of the month, junior Cody Scepaniak and redshirt freshman Ryan Morley are eight spring practices into their battle to become the Wildcats' next starting quarterback.

Despite Scepaniak being a junior and Morley being in his first year of college, the two are only separated by a semester when it comes to experience in Ostrowsky's no-huddle, spread offense.

Scepaniak joined the Wildcats during the 2011 spring season after playing for Alfred State College in New York. Morley first arrived on campus in August.

Ostrowsky said he could see a situation where both see the field in the fall, however, he said he will name a starter when the time is right, whether it's at the conclusion of the spring season or come August once the Wildcats break training camp.

"Ninety percent of it is evaluating tape and understanding what the statistical numbers are, who gives the team the better feel." Ostrowsky said. "I think there can be a situation where both factor in this season. Both bring a different skill set. I could see both of them playing significant roles. With that being said, there will be a starter named at some point."

Scepaniak backed up Kopach last season while Morley, the third string emergency quarterback, took a redshirt year after never leaving the sidelines.

Despite being involved in the game planning and signaling in of plays, Scepaniak's time on the field was minimal last season. He was sacked for a loss of 4 yards at home in a win over Northwood and he threw an incompletion in a loss at Saginaw Valley State.

Scepaniak's only extended game experience came in a rout of Tiffin at the Superior Dome when the backup came off the bench to complete 2-of-7 passes for 45 yards while gaining 27 yards on six carries rushing. He ran in a score as well.

"This is a really in-depth offense," Scepaniak said. "You have to know your keys, everything, and I didn't know anything last spring. This spring I'm coming in, I have a fall under my belt. It's about knowing the offense and I feel like I've done that now. Right now it's just about fine tuning everything from receivers' routes to balls to timing. It's all timing right now.

"Playing behind Carter helped me a lot. Just sitting and watching from the bench, you see a lot. Now I feel like I'm prepared."

Morley came to Northern from Grand Blanc High School where he was an honorable mention all-state selection. He finished his high school career as the fourth all-time leading passer in the state of Michigan.

Morley said his true freshman season was a frustrating one on the sidelines, though looking back, it was a necessary step to become a starting college quarterback.

"It was helpful redshirting," Morely said. "I got to learn behind a great quarterback in Carter Kopach. I got the whole offseason to learn the playbook, lift to get stronger in the weight room and now Cody and I are battling it out this spring for the No. 1 (role)."

Morley is getting his chance to shine this spring, spending a significant amount of time with the No. 1 offensive unit after practicing with the rarely used third unit and scout teams in the fall.

In Thursday's scrimmage at the Superior Dome, Morley completed 10-of-21 passes playing 11 and two-thirds series with the No. 1 unit. Scepaniak rushed in a pair of touchdowns during goal line situations and overall completed 7-of-16 passing attempts in four and a third series with the first unit.

Both quarterbacks threw three interceptions in a day dominated by the defensive backfield - though pass interference could have been called were there officials on one pick each for the NMU QBs.

Ostrowsky said the amount of snaps each quarterback saw with the first unit Thursday is not an indication of who leads the battle to become the starter.

"The speed of the game, especially with the (No. 1 unit) is so much different," Morley said. "Right now I'm just trying to get the reps and get used to that speed."

For Morely, it was about giving him a chance to show what he can do with the team's top players since Scepaniak had that opportunity throughout the fall working with the No. 1s and 2s.

"The thing about Ryan is he is a true freshman," Ostrowsky said. "He didn't play a down, not a second in the fall. We're trying to simulate the speed and see how he responds. I didn't put a whole lot of stock into it. We were doing some different things, trying to create some different situations for the team that would best entertain our team."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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