Nania to Start at QB

Dante Nania (3) will be the Penguins’ starting quarterback to begin the 2014 season. He won the position after battling Ricky Davis and Hunter Wells in the spring and summer. Photos by Dustin Livesay/The jambar.

It was early April 2013 and for the first seven sessions of the Youngstown State University football team’s spring practice season, Dante Nania took repetitions on the defensive side at safety.

“We were just trying to get him on the field,” Penguins’ head coach Eric Wolford said. “Kurt Hess was playing and no one was going to unseat him.”

About a year-and-a-half later, things are totally different for the junior.

After competing with freshmen Ricky Davis and Hunter Wells throughout the spring and summer, Nania was named as the Penguins’ starting quarterback on Monday, heading into the season opener at the University of Illinois on Aug. 30.

Nania was a quarterback since joining YSU in 2011, but switched to safety in spring 2013.

“I really didn’t [think I’d be in this position] at that point,” he said. “I could have easily left and transferred, but good things come to those who wait and it’s my time.”

Nania — who redshirted in 2011 before playing in one game at QB in 2012 — eventually switched back to quarterback in mid-April 2013. He proceeded to back-up the senior Hess last season, completing 11 of 20 passes for 180 yards in four games off the bench.

The six-foot, 195-pound righty then went on to impress Wolford and the coaching staff during the spring and summer practices to earn the starting gig.

“There’s a lot of factors,” Wolford said. “We chart every single thing — every single throw. Do you move the ball or not? Do the players respond to you? Are you a guy that knows it in the meeting room and then brings it to the field?

“Thus far he’s proven he’s that guy.”

Wolford informed Nania of his decision before Monday’s 10 a.m. practice. For a guy still waiting to make his first start since his senior year of high school in 2010, Nania said it was a special moment.

“I kind of got teary-eyed,” he admitted. “It was real emotional for me. I’ve waited and waited, and this is really relieving.

“I knew I had a strong camp and we were all competing. I’m not going to say I had an edge, but I think I’m definitely deserving.”

Nania capped his solid camp by completing 4 of 4 passes for 46 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage. He also ran for a 1-yard and 17-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, the true-freshman Wells went 6 for 8 on his tosses.

Also impressing the coaching staff, Wolford named Wells as the second-string QB while, Davis — a redshirt freshman — will be third in line.

“Hunter came in and earned the job and was actually in the running for the [starting] job at one point,” Wolford said. “He’s talented. The longer he’s around here, the more he’ll learn. But we’ll start the ball game with Dante.”