MARQUETTE - Following the Northern Michigan University football team's 2011 season-ending loss to Michigan Tech, 21-18, inside the Superior Dome on Nov. 12, a slew of frustrated faces wearing green and gold made their way from the artificial turf to the locker room.
Of all the Wildcats who walked off the field that day in defeat, no face showed more frustration than true freshman quarterback Ryan Morley.
He didn't play a single down in that game. In fact, he didn't play a single down all season.
Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley throws a pass during an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday evening inside the Superior Dome in Marquette. While Morley and his teammates have known since the beginning of camp, NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky made it public on Sunday that Morley would be the team’s starting quarterback this season. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
That's what was just as frustrating as the loss for the four-year starting QB out of Grand Blanc High School, who threw for over 5,000 yards in his prep career.
He hadn't spent an entire season on the sidelines since elementary school.
"That was my first year ever not playing football since I started in the fourth grade," Morley said. "It was definitely different, but in the end, I knew it would all be worth it, that I'd have a chance to start this year."
NMU first-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky said before his team's first practice of the season on Aug. 9 he wouldn't let his quarterback controversy linger, and while Morley and his teammates have all known for sometime, the former Wildcat offensive coordinator made it public on Sunday the team would be starting the redshirt freshman at Findlay on Aug. 30.
Ostrowsky called Morley the future of the program during his media day press conference, but also made it clear the team is not sacrificing wins by playing Morley over senior Cody Scepaniak.
"We're going to do everything we can to win now," Ostrowsky said. "We're not planning to build a future and hope to be 2-8 this year. Our plan is to prepare to win every football game we play and I think Ryan can get that done for us."
While Morley redshirted last season, Scepaniak backed up senior Carter Kopach. The 2010 junior college transfer out of Alfred State College in New York only saw serious playing time at home on Oct. 29 against Tiffin, completing 2 of 7 passes for 45 yards. He also had six carries in the game for 27 yards and a touchdown.
In the spring, Scepaniak and Morley rotated between the first and second offensive units in practices with Morley getting more reps with the first team than Scepaniak in order to familiarize the freshman with a group of receivers and backs he's never played with on the field before. The two split time during the spring game, with both QBs posting nearly identical completion percentages.
When NMU training camp began at the beginning of August, however, Morley began working almost exclusively with the No. 1 offense while Scepaniak - who is battling some lingering injuries dating back to spring - worked with the No. 2 unit, occasionally giving way to true freshmen QBs Jay Tollefson out of West De Pere, Wis. and Chris Nelson out of Twin Lakes, Wis.
In Thursday's scrimmage, it was all Morley as the No. 1 QB and after watching film into the early morning hours Friday night, Ostrowsky was confident to tell the public what Morley and teammates had known since Aug. 9.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Ostrowsky said. "I think he's responded very well. I think the players have rallied around him. He processes information well. He's made mistakes, but he's gotten better.
"The critical thing we talk about in this program is not making the same mistakes twice. I think as long as we maintain that, we'll be very successful offensively under Ryan."
The challenge now for Morley isn't building chemistry with his offensive weapons, or even learning Ostrowsky's complicated, no-huddle offense - Morley's had over 365 days to do that with Ostrowsky being the offensive coordinator last year.
The task at hand for the 19-year-old is deciphering defenses he's never seen before, like the looks first-year defensive coordinator Brian Newberry threw out during the team's scrimmage on Thursday, resulting in two interceptions.
"Coach Newberry and the No. 1 defense have been throwing tons of stuff at me that I've never seen before coming out of high school," Morley said. "Right now, it's just learning every day, watching film and trying to get better every day."
Newberry has been one of those people working alongside Scepaniak and Ostrowsky, helping get the young QB ready for starting in the GLIAC. Newberry said it's been a two-way street working with the freshman in terms of sharing knowledge and getting feedback on what the other is doing.
"Just earlier today, I asked him what he's seeing from us back there with our disguises," Newberry said Sunday speaking to the media. "We're pretty multiple in our coverages, so it's always interesting for me to hear it from a quarterback's perspective what he is seeing."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.