For the third straight year, Matt Williamson will take the field in Week 1 with a different starting quarterback.
This time around, the Missouri Western head coach hopes it takes the offense to a whole new level.
The man to take over under center, either senior Wyatt Steigerwald or redshirt freshman Anthony Vespo, will have the luxury of one of the top offensive lines in the country, as well as a bevy of experience running backs.
“It’s between those two guys. They’re battling it out right now, it’s who’s stood out in the pack so far. They’re kinda getting after it a bit,” Williamson said. “I’m excited to see the opportunity to get to throw the ball a bit more.”
The Griffons ranked eighth in the MIAA in passing yards in 2018, throwing for just 169.4 yards per game. Western completed just 53 percent of passes a season ago, tallying 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
In comparison, the Griffons rushed for 220 yards per contest and 24 total touchdowns.
Western ranked last in the MIAA in passing in 2017, Williamson’s first year.
Dom Marino handled the duties under center for much of the past two seasons, throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2018. Where he excelled was in the rushing game, totaling 673 yards and five touchdowns last season to rank second on the team.
Steigerwald is the lone quarterback with experience at the college level, coming to the Griffons from the junior college ranks at Northeastern Oklahoma State last season.
In limited action, he completed 15 of 29 passes for three touchdowns with a long of 74. He also attempted just six rushes. The bulk of his work came when he went 6-for-15 for 53 yards in a loss against Pittsburg State
The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Nowata, Oklahoma, led NEO to a conference championship with a region-leading 32 passing touchdowns. He totaled more than 2,700 yards and completed 62.5 percent of passes for his career.
“Wyatt is the all-around guy,” Williamson said. “He’s an athlete, not as electric as Dom, he can move around really good and throw the ball a lot better. … Wyatt has game experience in college football here and in junior college and is doing really well right now.”
Vespo, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Bolingbrook, Illinois, was a first-team all-conference and all-area selection in high school, racking up an honorable mention all-state honor.
In his senior season he totaled 20 touchdowns and 1,614 yards at a 70-percent clip. According to Williamson, Vespo is a guy who can “throw it really well” and is “a great athlete.”
“By the end of this week, we’ll probably be like, ‘This is the guy,’ and we’ll lean on him unless he totally screws it up the week after that,” Williamson said. “We won’t make it competitive all the way up to the last two days to the game. Both of them are gonna be great quarterbacks for us. One’s got a little more experience, the other’s just grown up fast. You just don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Where the Griffons hope the biggest leap at quarterback comes is in limiting penalties to allow better chances at extending drives on third down. The Griffons were the most penalized team in the MIAA and still led the conference in third-down conversions.
The Griffons also roster other quarterbacks, though redshirt freshman Braden Howell from Bishop Carroll in Wichita, Kansas, is the only one assigned a number. Sophomore Justin Phillips (Basehor-Linwood), as well as freshmen Grayson Tackett (Little Rock, Arkansas) and Cody Thorne (St. Charles, Missouri) also are on the Griffon roster, with Tackett having been on campus since the spring semester.