KALAMAZOO - For the first time since leading Grand Rapids South Christian to the 2014 MHSAA Division 4 state title, Jon Wassink is the unquestioned starting quarterback.
Western Michigan opened fall practice on Thursday, Wassink's first since being named the starting quarterback for the Broncos ahead of their Sept. 2 opener at No. 3-ranked University of Southern California.
"I was really excited (to be named starter), but I think I’m more excited for us as a team," Wassink said following practice. “I think us, as a collective team, we’re excited to be back together and working for the next month towards our first game."
Wassink has a right to be excited, as he takes over as quarterback for the defending Mid-American Conference champions, fresh off a 13-1 season and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.
During spring ball, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Wassink was in competition with junior Tom Flacco, the only quarterback on Western Michigan's roster to have taken a collegiate snap.
First-year Broncos' head coach Tim Lester said the two quarterbacks were close throughout the spring practices in terms of completion percentage, but Wassink held a slight lead in the race by throwing four interceptions versus Flacco's seven.
The competition was to remain open to start fall camp, but Flacco requested and was granted his release in July, and has since transferred to Rutgers. He will have to sit out a season, per NCAA transfer rules, before suiting up for his home state Scarlet Knights.
“It’s great for Jon because he can really focus and he gets all the reps with the ones," Lester said. "He gets the same amount of reps than he did before, but they’ll all be probably with the ones. Which will help their timing a little bit and his confidence a little bit."
Wassink, a redshirt sophomore, led Grand Rapids South Christian to two state championships. He finished his high school career with 8,124 passing yards — third-most in state history. A three-star recruit, he received interest from Michigan and Michigan State before signing with the Broncos.
Splitting reps behind Wassink on Thursday were Alex Mussat, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Illinois, redshirt freshman Brendan Tabone and freshmen Reece Goddard and Chris Riddle. Lester said Wassink "was way ahead of most of them today, but we have to make sure we have depth at that position."
Although he has yet to line up under center for the Broncos in a game, Wassink said he learned a lot over his previous two seasons on the scout team and playing behind Zach Terrell, who graduated as the program's all-time leading passer (11,947 yards).
"Everybody is different. Me and Zach are similar in some ways, but different in others," Wassink said. "Let those different things come out. I was very thankful to play behind him — he was a great role model for me and so it’s good to learn from people like that."
Lester, who was a star quarterback himself at Western Michigan, said being named starter is just the beginning for Wassink, and cautioned him not to take his role for granted.
"We’re giving you the ball and we have faith in you, but you’re going to have to go out there and compete and play, and if you don’t, we’re going to find someone who can," Lester said. “He was excited to have the opportunity. But the biggest thing is to take advantage of that opportunity. This is the beginning."
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
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