When Eric Wolford considers what he wants his first-year starting quarterback Dante Nania to accomplish on Saturday, the Youngstown State University head football coach first thinks of electric receiver and running back Andre Stubbs.
He then ponders talented sophomore running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb as well as veteran receivers Jelani Berassa, Andrew Williams and Christian Bryan.
“Dante just needs to manage the game,” said Wolford, entering his fifth season at YSU. “That’s all he needs to do — don’t turn the ball over. We have enough weapons around him on offense.”
It’s a task that Nania — just named the Penguins starting quarterback on Monday — believes he can handle.
“Coach wants a quarterback that’s not going to fumble the ball, turn the ball over or force throws down field,” the junior said. “When you need to hit your back on a sling, you just have to do it. [Offensive coordinator Shane] Montgomery said it’s not a sexy throw, but you got to take them.”
Montgomery — in his fifth year with the Penguins — said he certainly likes Nania’s ability to manage a game. However, he’s also intrigued by something else from his quarterback.
“He moves really well, so he’s a threat in the running game,” Montgomery said. “Plus he’s got a strong arm, so he really doesn’t limit us to anything we want to do as far as the passing game is concerned. I think it’s a good mix of the two.”
For the past four years, YSU featured a classic pocket passer with starting QB Kurt Hess. This season, the offense should look a bit different under the guidance of the more-mobile Nania.
“We run a spread offense, so that’s our goal — to spread the whole entire field,” Nania said. “I think [my athleticism] will stretch the field. I bring that to the table.”
Wolford is also confident his new quarterback will supply leadership.
“I think our players, in the back of their minds, see Dante as our leader,” he said. “He’s been here the longest amount of time, been around our guys and has good relationships. He’ll speak up.”
Nania has been with the Penguins since 2011. On the other hand, back-up QB Hunter Wells — a true freshman — has only been around since the spring. Still, Wells’ talent is apparent.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and he’s probably as far along of any freshman I’ve ever had,” Montgomery said. “To have him come in and learn what he’s learned in a short amount of time is really remarkable.”
The 6-foot-5-inch Wells — more in the mold of Hess — also impressed his camp-competitor.
“Hunter looked great — he’s really accurate,” Nania said. “Not much zip, but he can manage the game. He’s a good quarterback, too.”
In turn, the prospects of Nania, Wells and third-stringer Ricky Davis — a redshirt freshman — excite Montgomery.
“We still have a long ways to go at the position,” he said. “All three of those guys can get a lot better and that’s the good thing about it.”