MARQUETTE - It's been a long road for Northern Michigan University senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak, who originally wasn't even projected to be a Wildcat still in 2013 when he transferred to NMU from Alfred State College in New York prior to the 2011 season.
Scepaniak was a back up his first time as a junior in 2011, sitting behind incoming starter Carter Kopach. He was the insurance policy Northern lacked the year before when Kopach was lost to a season-ending injury. He only appeared in six games, completed 2-of-8 passes for 45 yards, ran seven times for 23 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in a blowout win over Tiffin.
Last year, Scepaniak's fate as a perennial backup at Northern seemed sealed when he lost out on the starting job to redshirt freshman Ryan Morley, in part due to an injured elbow that limited the veteran in training camp.
Northern Michigan University senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak throws during route drills with his receivers on Aug. 20 outside the Superior Dome. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Scepaniak's fortunes began to change midway through 2012 when Morley was lost for the season after suffering a concussion against Michigan Tech.
The following week, Scepaniak led NMU to its first win over Grand Valley State since 2000 with two rushing touchdowns and another through the air. From there, the 'Cats went on to beat Northwood and Saginaw Valley State to go 3-2 with Scepaniak starting.
Prior to the season finale against Ferris, Scepaniak learned the NCAA had granted him another year of eligibility, making him a junior again.
That second-time junior was named the starting quarterback in the spring, giving Scepaniak the summer and senior year he had hoped for in 2012.
"I got to focus this summer on my lifting, becoming more physical and explosive as a quarterback," Scepaniak said. "Now I feel like I have a good grasp of the offense and I can lead these guys even more so than I did last year."
Scepaniak completed 74 of 128 passes a year ago for 1,055 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in five starts. His pass efficiency of 133.1 ranked seventh in the GLIAC, with GVSU's Isiah Grimes leading the league at 178.1.
Grimes wasn't the dual-threat quarterback that Scepaniak was, though, finishing with -28 yards compared to the 479 Scepaniak racked up in his six games.
Based on Scepaniak's experience and the way he handled himself down the stretch a year ago, head coach Chris Ostrowsky has set high expectations for his starting QB going into the season.
"We're expecting him to be steady, to be a solid voice when chaos hits, which it does in every football game," Ostrowsky said. "To be honest, we're expecting everything from him. At this point in the season, you better want to win them all. You better feel good about your quarterback and I feel great about ours."
Ostrowsky said Scepaniak is having a great camp thus far, most notably his dedication to ball security. The six interceptions in six games Scepaniak threw a year ago were his only turnovers.
The only concern early has been Scepaniak's chemistry with a new group of receivers, though Ostrowsky said that gets noticeably better and better with every practice.
"They are learning to play with each other," Ostrowsky said about Scepaniak and the receivers. "I think our wide receivers are learning to play within the offense."
Ostrowsky is now in his second season as head coach and fourth year at Northern after serving as the offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011.
Since arriving at NMU just prior to the 2010 season, Ostrowsky said the QB position is the best it's been in four years, even with sophomore Ryan Morley out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Backing up Scepaniak this year will be junior Dustin Thomas, who spent three years at Villanova, including one season as the starter before getting injured.
Behind Thomas is true freshman Shaye Brown out of Fenton, who was an all-state QB at Linden High School.
While Ostrowsky would like to redshirt Brown - meaning no injuries to his other QBs - he has no hesitation playing Thomas if need be.
"We can win with Dustin Thomas, there's no question about it," Ostrowsky said. "You're looking at a guy who was a starter for Villanova."