Who will start behind center when Indiana State’s football team opens its 2006 season Sept. 2 at Purdue?

Well, ISU Coach Lou West says that has not been determined yet.

This much is known: Whoever West and his staff select to be the Sycamores’ first-string quarterback won’t be highly experienced at the NCAA Division I-AA level.

This past season’s starter, Blayne Baggett, was a senior who’s no longer eligible and the primary backup, Phillip Johnson, decided not to return to the team.

That leaves juniors-to-be Ben Schmidt and Reilly Murphy and redshirt freshman J.R. Kirkendoll. High school recruits Evan Parker of Merrillville and Charles Dowdell of Fort Wayne Northrop will join the squad in the fall.

During a spring practice Friday at Memorial Stadium, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Schmidt took most of the first-team reps. But West said Murphy and Kirkendoll also have been rotated in with the first team.

“One guy does something a little bit better than the other one, so the competition continues to build,” West assessed. “I think all three of them are very competitive.”

When asked what quality he wants most out of a starting QB, West said leadership.

“It’s not so much that he has to yell and scream and stuff, but just do his job and help other guys … just be a leader out there on the field,” ISU’s second-year head coach explained.

Schmidt, who caught 11 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns as a wide receiver in eight games in 2005, did see action at quarterback in five games in 2004. In probably his most memorable performance that season, he came off the bench to lead ISU to a 33-30 overtime victory at Eastern Illinois.

Not surprisingly, he’d certainly like to be “the man” on ISU’s offense in 2006.

“Although I didn’t play much last year, I’d like to think I’m an older guy [21] who has more game experience,” Schmidt mentioned. “Hopefully with experience comes knowledge of the game … Hopefully, my abilities to throw and run the ball will help.”

Schmidt said he likes the new system being implemented by first-year offensive coordinator Blair Hrovat.

“It’s run-and-throw, about half and half,” he said. “We like to run the ball, like to throw the ball. Nothing fancy. We’ll just try to get the job done and keep the [opposing] defense on its heels.

“We’re looking good so far [in spring practices]. Everybody’s getting after it. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and everybody’s excited to get next season started.”

Schmidt admitted that an improved running game is necessary for the Sycamores to be competitive in the Gateway Football Conference.

“You need to be able to run the ball in this league to be successful,” he stressed. “I think we’re going to be able to do that.”

The 6-0, 175-pound Kirkendoll, who came from the football-crazy state of Texas, sat out last season as a redshirt. But he saw enough games to form opinions on what improvements are needed and he wouldn’t mind being on the field to make sure those improvements take place.

“I think we need to approach each game with a lot of mental toughness … and go full blast every play,” he said.

“I think I’d be a good first-string quarterback because with the new type of running game we’re putting in this year, that kinda goes toward my specialty as far as being a running quarterback as well as a passing quarterback. I think it fits my quarterback style.”

Like Schmidt, Kirkendoll thinks the offense is running relatively smoothly after two weeks of spring practice.

“I think the offense looks really good so far this year,” Kirkendoll noted. “Basically, our tempo is up. Everybody’s going in and watching film and doing their homework. Nobody’s slackin’. I think everybody at each position is getting better day by day.”

Murphy (6-3, 220) is a recent transfer from Grossmont College in San Diego. This past season, Murphy helped Grossmont win the California junior college state championship with a 41-38 victory over San Francisco City College.

“I think I’ll be able to bring leadership,” Murphy told the Tribune-Star. “We’ll have a pretty good passing game this year. We switched up the offense we had. I’ll be ready to lead so we can do what we do.”

Although Murphy wasn’t around ISU last fall, he has watched films of the Sycamores’ first winless season since 1951.

“We’ve just got to emphasize holding on to the ball,” he said. “If we don’t get those turnovers in the red zone — it seems like they had a lot of those last year — we should be OK.”

Murphy likes what he’s seen of the new offensive system and the effort being put forth by his new teammates.

“I think the offense is good,” he said. “You can tell that we’re just getting started, but we’re making progress every day. The good thing is everybody has a good attitude out here and is trying to learn every day. Right now, it seems like we’re on the right track.”

The Sycamores will conduct afternoon practices today, Wednesday and Friday this week. They’ll conclude spring practices with their annual Blue/White Scrimmage on April 22 at Memorial Stadium.

Five questions about ISU’s 2006 offense:

1. Can it develop a winning “killer” attitude coming off a 0-11 campaign in 2005?

2. Can it build confidence in believing that it has the talent and gameplans to be successful in the Gateway Football Conference?

3. Can the running game improve from last season, during which the Sycamores were outrushed 2,830 to 1,208 yards, and keep opposing defenses on their heels?

4. Can Coach Lou West find a true leader at quarterback?

5. Can players quickly learn the new system being implemented by first-year offensive coordinator Blair Hrovat?

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