Kevin Bullis isn’t ready to commit to a quarterback yet.
The UW-Whitewater head football coach, in fact, insists he’s not sure whether either Zach Oles or Max Meylor will win the starting job outright or if he’ll play both when the Warhawks open their season Sept. 7 at home against nonconference opponent Dubuque.
One thing is for certain: Whoever is calling the signals will have a glut of weapons at his disposal.
The only other offensive position without a returning starter is center. Four skill players who combined to score 54 touchdowns during Whitewater’s run to the NCAA Division III national semifinals are back.
And a sixth, running Jarrod Ware, took a medical redshirt but has scored eight career touchdowns.
Bullis isn’t overly concerned that his defense returns just three starters, because most of the players stepping into starting roles played plenty during the Warhawks’ blowouts last year.
But if that unit dips a bit from the impressive 10.1 points per game allowed during last year’s 13-1 campaign, Whitewater’s offense should certainly be able to pick up the slack.
The Warhawks have long prided themselves on their ability to run the football.
Several players said Wednesday during a team media day that there are six backs that could all be ready to play a role.
Three stand out. Alex Peete is a preseason all-American who rushed for 1,368 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago. Ronny Ponick is a captain who spelled Peete and finished with 890 yards and 11 scores. And Ware played in just two games before suffering an injury last season, but he was granted a waiver and is back for another shot at a senior season.
“They’re three different running backs,” Bullis said. “AP is this disciplined, fast, athletic guy who is very systematic and disciplined in his approach. Ronny Ponick is a freight train … can lower the boom and change the tempo of defenses. Then there is Jarrod Ware, and he is unpredictable … in the sense of his ability to make people miss, his athleticism and his ability to catch the ball.”
Will there be enough carries to go around?
“It’s not going to be a problem on Saturdays,” Ponick said. “If somebody is going to be hot, we’re going to keep him in there. Otherwise, we’re going to have different looks.”
The Warhawks also return enough firepower at wide receiver to likely make second-year offensive coordinator Peter Jennings blush.
Ryan Wisniewski is a do-everything player who finished last season with team bests of 36 receptions, 696 yards and eight touchdowns, while also rushing 23 times for 337 yards and four scores. Mitchell Dess caught 28 passes for 348 yards and five scores, and JT Parish proved to be a valuable deep threat, averaging 41.1 yards on his 25 catches, which included seven touchdowns. And you can also toss Derek Kumerow—brother of former Warhawks and current Green Bay Packers receiver Jake—into the mix after dealing with injuries last season.
“I’m terribly excited for those QBs,” Bullis said. “They know that when they put the ball in the air, those guys will come down with it.”
Bullis said Oles—the backup last year to three-year starter Cole Wilber—and Meylor have distanced themselves from original group of six quarterbacks vying for the starting job.
Bullis said Meylor is more of a pro-style, pocket quarterback, while Oles would like to run the ball a little more.
With two potential quarterbacks with different styles and three returning running backs with distinct, differing roles, it should be fun to see how the identity of the offense unfolds throughout the season.
“Ultimately, we have a system. … We have our plays and our schemes and are pro-style,” Bullis said. “But there does become times and situations where one guy becomes more of a strength than the other. That’s something Coach Jennings has got to be able to utilize, especially with those three running backs.
“He’s the master cook,” Bullis added of Jennings, “in continuing to build the chemistry on the offensive side of the ball.”
Even with the quarterback position still in flux, Jennings’ cupboard appears to be fully stocked.