TERRE HAUTE —
The upcoming quarterback battle between returning starter Mike Perish and up-and-comer Robert Tonyan Jr. is on the radar of followers of the Indiana State football program.
It should be intriguing, no doubt.
But there are dozens of student-athletes ready to prove to new head coach Mike Sanford they deserve time on the turf at Memorial Stadium.
That was evidenced by the summer with ISU strength and conditioning coaches, led by Dave McManus.
“According to our strength coach Dave McManus, it was the most guys that we’ve ever had here in the summer for conditioning,” Sanford said.
“My indications and what I’m hearing is the leadership and attitudes were excellent in the summer.”
The Sycamores have gaping holes at linebacker to fill and a large group of newcomers at wide receivers will be looking to impressive the offensive coaching staff in the next few weeks, leading up to the season opener Aug. 29 at Indiana University.
It might take all the way up to that date for Sanford to decide who will line up under veteran center FN Lutz. Perish has more experience, but Tonyan’s athleticism could be appealing as the Sycamore shift into a spread-style offense under Sanford.
“I think it’ll take a while for us to determine that. There’s a chance, because of what both of them bring to the table, there’s a chance we could end up playing both of them,” Sanford said.
On campus, the ISU football suite was buzzing with newcomers, veterans and assistant coaches Wednesday afternoon, the first day for players to report to camp after a week off from summer conditioning. Practice begins today at Memorial Stadium.
All-American running back Shakir Bell was among those in the building and Sanford is ready to get his most dynamic playmaker on the field in his new offensive system.
Bell is one of three running backs in the Missouri Valley Football Conference on the Walter Payton Award watch list.
“I think your running back and your offensive line sets the tone for your offense, and so he needs to set that tone as far as how he practices, how he learns and all that,” said Sanford, who hopes to create a strong level of balance in the Sycamores’ offense.
“I can’t predict what he’s going to do, but one of the deals, we want to keep him healthy. We want to utitlize his talents. At the same time, we don’t want to have a deal where everybody on the field knows who’s going to get the ball every play. We want to try to be as unpredictable as possible, but we also want to utilize him to the fullest of his ability,” Sanford said. “I haven’t been in the heat of the battle with him, I’m looking forward to working with him in a competitive situation.”
Bell will be able to rely on an offensive line led by veteran center FN Lutz.
“He’s the anchor and leader of our offensive front and our offense. Very excited about him being back,” Sanford said.
Sanford looks forward to playing Big Ten in-state opponents Indiana and Purdue to start the season.
But his focus will quickly move to competing for a MVFC championship against some of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Heavy favorite North Dakota State was the unanimous pick to win the league based on a large contingent of players returning to the roster for the two-time defending national champion Bison.
The Sycamores were picked to finish sixth in the MVFC.
“We have a lot of respect for North Dakota State, a lot of respect for a lot of teams, but North Dakota State had a tremendous year and they’re defending national champions,” Sanford said. “My opinion is we have something to prove. We need to gain more respect than where people see us finishing. That’s all talk. That’s something we’ve got to do with action.”