College Football

Why here? Hawks hope answer becomes clear with continued progress

Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland quarterback Cole Martin is one of the centerpieces of the Quincy University football team's recruiting class. | Photo courtesy St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Randy Kemp
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 8, 2019 1:45 am Updated: Feb. 8, 2019 1:59 am

QUINCY -- The depth Quincy University football coach Gary Bass and his staff have created didn't change the way they recruited their latest class.

It changes the urgency to play the incoming freshmen right away.

"When guys asked about playing time, I was clear we will play the best player regardless if he's a freshman, sophomore, junior or whatever," Bass said. "But I also know we can develop guys and give them a chance to grow and learn before we throw them out there. That's the depth we've been able to create."

The Hawks signed 49 players this week, meaning they could have as many as 160 players in preseason camp come August. They expect to have more than 100 available during spring practice.

For a program fighting for respectability and victories, those numbers are a good sign players are committed.

"The biggest thing I got asked was, ‘Why here?'" Bass said. "I told them it's really easy to go somewhere that's already built something and be a part of something. It's totally different when you have to go somewhere and be the reason it started. Resoundingly, the one thing the players kept saying was, ‘Coach, I want to be the reason why the program continues going in the right direction.'

"It's guys who believe in what we're doing, how we're doing it and want to be a part of something special."

They will have the chance to help turn things around.

The struggles the past two seasons offensively led to a change in leadership and an emphasis on playmakers in recruiting.

The Hawks loaded up on freshmen stalwarts from the St. Louis and Chicago areas, signing two quarterbacks, five running backs and six wide receivers. The centerpiece of the class is Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland quarterback Chase Martin, who threw for 1,296 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 6-foot-6 Martin also rushed for 344 yards and nine touchdowns.

"We wanted a freshman quarterback who we thought could come in here and be a ?phenomenal player," Bass said. "We had some good guys in last year's group that we have plenty of faith in, but as your quarterback goes, so goes your football program.

"It would be nice to have guy like Robbie Kelley, who we can put behind some guys for a year or two and can learn and get better and grow so when he has the chance to step in he know exactly what is going on."

Kelley was recruited out of Rochester in 2014, redshirted his first year, played behind Nick Lonergan his second season and enjoyed a breakout sophomore season in his first year as a starter when he threw for 2,701 yards and 23 touchdowns and led the Hawks to a 5-6 record.

Martin isn't the only player the Hawks see with the potential to mature in such a way.

There are several options in the backfield who could emerge as workhorse backs.

Joliet Catholic's Keenan Hailey broke the Hilltoppers' single-season rushing record with 2,637 yards on 318 carries and scored 37 touchdowns as they won the Class 5A state championship. West Aurora's Hezekiah Salter rushed for 1,023 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall and earned honorable mention all-state honors. And Chicago Simeon's DeAngelo Hudson rushed for more than 800 yards and 14 touchdowns.

There will be a new look at wide receiver, too. Four of the six wideouts the Hawks signed are 6-foot-3 or taller, and tight end Hans Wisnewski of Sterling Heights, Mich., is 6-3.

"Big, long guys who can do some really good things for us," Bass said. "They've got length."

It was needed. Undersized at the skill positions last season and racked by injury at running back, the Hawks ranked last in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in scoring offense and seventh among the eight teams in passing offense.