Cole Wilber graduated, and the competition to utilize his weapons has begun.
Wilber was the primary starting quarterback for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team for the better part of three years. His big arm was the envy of most programs in the WIAC.
He saved his best season for his senior year, but he’s gone now.
So, the first question the Warhawks need to answer is what combination of replacement quarterbacks will be the answer as UW-W attempts to return to the top four spots in the NCAA Division III playoffs as it did last year.
Zach Oles transferred in from Butler before the 2018 season and saw time in mop-up duty throughout the fall. Oles completed 16 of his 22 passes, including five touchdowns. His first pass he threw in Perkins Stadium was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Whitewater native Andy Cooper against Middle Georgia State.
Oles and Mount Horeb native Max Meylor are the two quarterbacks competing for the bulk of the snaps. Meylor transferred to UW-Whitewater from Lindenwood College. He played football and basketball at Lindenwood but wasn’t able to snag the top spot on the quarterback depth chart.
“It’s going to be interesting,” UW-Whitewater head coach Kevin Bullis said. “We came out of the spring and we had some great competition. That’s spring, when you can only play skeleton drills and there’s no hitting going on. We felt very good about the way Zach Oles jumped forward and the way Max Meylor jumped in.
“They were the two that consistently produced day to day.”
Oles brings more of a running component to the mix. Meylor is more of the pro-style run-pass threat than Oles.
In games last year, Oles lowered his shoulder and punished defenders in ways most quarterbacks don’t in the WIAC, which UW-Whitewater won for the 36th time in 2018.
Offensive coordinator Peter Jennings became the full-time guy in May after serving as an interim for 15 months. Though not unique, the standard offensive design Jennings uses generally has an option read for the quarterback to hold onto the ball and pick up yardage to keep the defense honest. Last year, Wilber had limited mobility outside of the pocket.
This year, whichever quarterback emerges as the main starter, the Warhawks will have a chance to do more than keep the defense honest.
“They both have the ability to run the ball,” Bullis said. “Zach’s ability to run the ball is fantastic. Max is more of a pocket guy, but he can run. He’s a good athlete.
“The thing that’s exciting about both of them is the ability to improvise and be creative. On a throw play, when they get a little bit of pressure and get pushing the pocket, they make good things happen. They have the presence to keep their eyes down field and do some special things.”
If Oles and Meylor are the traditional, likely replacements for Wilber, wide receiver Ryan Wisniewski is the unconventional playmaker that will see snaps to impact the game.
The Wisniewski-run wildcat offense—Wiz-cat in the UW-W vernacular—debuted early in the season, but blossomed near the end. He carried the ball 21 times in a five-game stretch before the third playoff game and averaged almost a touchdown and 16 yards per carry. In the passing game, he caught 16 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a guy that you want to get the ball in his hands, obviously,” Bullis said. “He put up some gaudy numbers. He leads a nice crew of seniors there.”
And the quarterbacks, Wisniewski included, will be tasked with facilitating their success.