With no score kept and several key returners not suiting up in the Brown and Gold for precautionary reasons, all eyes were on the guys in red during Saturday's Western Michigan University football scrimmage.
The annual intrasquad scrimmage wrapped up the first spring practices under new Broncos head coach Tim Lester, as the team looks to build off of its 2016 Mid-American Conference championship with a new player under center.
It appears the competition to be the starting quarterback for the Sept. 2 season opener at USC has come down to 6-foot, 200-pound junior Tom Flacco and 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt sophomore Jon Wassink. They each look to replace Zach Terrell, a four-year starter who finished with a program-record 12,100 passing yards while leading the team to three straight bowl appearances.
"I've been around a lot of quarterback battles, and one thing I did learn is you never make the decision who is going to win the Indy 500 after three laps," Lester said. "You just don't know. They both showed good things, they both at times struggled. The worst thing I could do is pull the trigger early because right now they are both making each other better. They know they are in a competition, I've been in some, and the longer they compete with each other the better. But it is close. Their numbers are within one percentage point of each other for the spring."
Flacco is the only quarterback on Western Michigan's roster with game experience, rushing for 74 yards on 10 attempts last season while attempting one pass. As a freshman, the dual-threat quarterback completed 10 of 12 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown while adding 266 rushing yards and two scores on the ground.
"The whole goal was to get comfortable with the new stuff that we're doing," Flacco said of spring ball. "And the quarterbacks and wide receivers are new guys really, so getting comfortable with those guys... that's what I think we accomplished this spring."
Wassink took a diplomatic approach in regards to the starting quarterback competition, saying, "That's all in the coach's hands and I can't control that, so all I'm going to focus on is getting better and helping the team get better.
"I think that we did that with the new coaching staff and all the learning we had to do. That was the biggest thing - a lot of growth happening. We got a lot better. We just have to carry that into the fall."
Several players from Western Michigan's 13-1 squad were in attendance for the spring game. Among them were national record-setting receiver and All-American Corey Davis, who is set to attend the NFL Draft on April 27 as a likely first-round pick. Also roaming the sidelines were All-American offensive tackle Taylor Moton, a potential Day 2 draft pick as well as draft hopefuls Terrell and defensive end Keion Adams.
"Anytime any alumni - especially the ones that have a chance to play on Sundays - comes back and show that they love this place and they love their teammates is great," Lester said. "The more people at practice every day, the more people in the stands every day, the better practices we have. Our guys work hard all the time, but they always have that little extra juice when we have a bunch of people here. They really want to take the program to the next level. Those guys did a great job of getting it to where it's at. And our guys I know feel a chip on their shoulder to continue to build it."