MARQUETTE - When Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman Ryan Morley was announced as the team's starting quarterback for this coming season, first-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky called Morley "the future" of the program.
But by future, Ostrowsky wasn't just referring to the man who would be taking snaps potentially through the 2015 season.
Morley is the Wildcats' man for the immediate future. He's NMU's best chance to win now after back-to-back losing seasons.
Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley throws during preseason drills Aug. 20 inside the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"Everyone understands I feel really good about Ryan Morley," Ostrowsky said. "Ryan is our quarterback because he's the best one. He's ready to win now."
Morley not only has the confidence of his head coach, but the entire coaching staff, as well as his teammates going into the season opener on Thursday at Findlay (Ohio).
Morley sat out all of last season as the team's third-string emergency quarterback behind departed senior Carter Kopach and the man who's now his backup this season, senior Cody Scepaniak.
While Morley didn't see the field once during the Wildcats' 4-7 2011 campaign, junior wide receiver Christian Marble-King said he team's young group of receivers made sure to get to know their young QB.
That extra effort has paid off in the preseason thus far, Marble-King said.
"Our chemistry started last season," he said. "We knew we were young with Carter and with Ryan. We kind of took him under our wing.
"It has helped out a lot because it has translated to the field nicely."
Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rob Boss said the Wildcats have turned to Morley because they feel the team will be able to execute whatever offense is necessary.
While a strong rushing attack is necessary, the Wildcats will not necessarily become a rushing team just because a redshirt freshman is under center.
In 2011, NMU did run the ball more than it took to the air, 423-363. However, when you take away the 144 carries credited to a scrambler in Kopach, the Wildcats' true colors as a pass-first offense are revealed.
In a pass-first offense, senior running back Prince Young believes Morley can set records.
"For us, we have to step up, block and protect him, Young said. "If we can get Ryan Morley time, he can set records all year.
"If we can step up, protect him, keep him healthy, then he should have a great year."
Ostrowsky said the key to Morley's success this year is the young quarterback's ability to process information, because every QB at the NCAA Division II level and higher has the skill.
Morley said being able to sit and watch Kopach and Scepaniak, in addition to the time put in this offseason, has allowed him to be comfortable with the offense.
Time spent with defensive coordinator Brian Newberry has helped build his knowledge of opposing defenses as well, Morley said.
"It's not so much learning the plays, but learning what plays go with what defenses and checking into audibles at the line," he said.
Scepaniak, who completed 2-of-8 passes for 45 yards in his first season at NMU after transferring in from Alfred State in New York, will back up Morley, as well as serve as a voice on and off the field for his young teammate and the coaches.
Ostrowsky also hinted, while refusing to go into specifics, that Scepaniak won't be left on the sidelines all season.
He'll have a role on the playing field beyond backing up Morley and holding the ball for senior kicker Rockne Belmonte.
Scepaniak is standing by his teammate, and saying the right things for a veteran who was beaten out by a rookie.
"Ryan has done a great job this camp. He's worked hard," Scepaniak said.
"I'm a team player. I can't wait for the season. Ryan is one of my best friends. I'm behind him all the way.
"Coach O is he added. "Ryan and I get along great. I'm excited to be behind him. I'll be rooting for him all the way."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.