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Illinois State linebacker Zachary Matthews, right, catches Eastern Illinois quarterback Harry Woodbery during a rollout in the second quarter Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, at Hancock Stadium.

CHARLESTON — Harry Woodbery could've pouted. He could've sulked. He could've transferred off the Eastern Illinois football team, a move that has been made popular by other quarterbacks at FBS programs the last few years.

Woodbery didn't do any of that when Johnathan Brantley started to receive most, if not all of the snaps, at quarterback. Woodbery knew the drill. He had been through it before in high school and at Navarro Junior College before joining EIU at the semester break last year. He knew it was a possibility against at EIU. He knew EIU coach Kim Dameron was going to play the hot hand and that was Brantley at the time.

So Woodbery kept working. He kept doing everything he did before and instead of being an adversary to Brantley, he worked with the starting quarterback. He knew being Brantley's enemy or sulking wouldn't get him anywhere.

Then Woodbery, who only played two series against Indiana State and then didn't take any snaps in the first three quarters against Tennessee State, was called upon late in the game against the Tigers after Brantley took a big hit. The team later found out it was a hip pointer. Woodbery came in and finished out the game for EIU. He went 5-of-6 passing for 105 yards and a touchdown, which was a 72-yarder to Alexander Hollins to give EIU a temporary lead (TSU later went on to win the game).

Brantley was available for EIU's next game against Tennessee Tech if absolutely needed but Dameron didn't need to put the Tulane transfer in. Woodbery received his first start in an EIU uniform and led the Panthers to touchdowns on their first two drives. Woodbery finished with five touchdowns on 32-of-49 passing for 339 yards as EIU picked up its first season last week, 52-38.

Woodbery was pleased with how his first start went.

"Everything was working well and the offense was moving the way it should be. That's how it should look," Woodbery said. "I was just ready for my name to be called upon. I prepare like I am the starter and when you go in, you just go out there and play football. Obviously, it's a great feeling to go out and show what you are capable of but it was a total team effort. We had a lot of guys make plays and the defense came through with turnovers. It was an all-around good game for us."

Dameron has said all season that he feels he can trust either quarterback - Woodbery or Brantley. Brantley has a 146.33 passer efficiency this season and Woodbery has a 146.80 efficiency. Brantley has passed for 965 yards and seven touchdowns and Woodbery has passed for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. The two have only combined for one interception.

"We've played both of them and we will continue to do that. We have two good ones and they both deserve to play. That last weekend is exactly why I knew we had to have two (quarterbacks)," Dameron said. "I was never going to go through that again where I didn't feel like we had two that could go out there and get it done and not have to change the offense. It was great to see. It was as fine as an offensive performance as I've seen in a long time."

Woodbery could've taken a different path. He could've transferred, but that's not how he is. Woodbery enjoys battling for a spot and feels he grew as a player because of it.

"At my junior college, it was the same situation. We were battling it out for a while and I've never been someone who has believed in leaving if you don't get something you want right away," Woodbery said. "I love competition and I believe it makes you better. I can say I've gained from the competition with Brantley. It's still going on now. It makes you come to work every day, put on your helmet and stay focused. Instead of being able to relax, it keeps you on your toes and you learn stuff from the other guy."

He kept a positive attitude through it all. He didn't hang his head. He kept putting in the work because he knew he had to be ready if something happened. That meant working with Brantley, too. Throughout the competition, the two bonded and became friends instead of battling against each other. Woodbery thinks that's helped both of them grow as a quarterback.

"I just prepared like I am starter and when they call your name, you go out and play football. We have an amazing offensive group here and I am just blessed to be a part of that," Woodbery said. "(Johnathan and I) push each other every day to be better and I never felt any animosity from him and I've never had any animosity toward him. It's been a good relationship and it will continue to be that way. At the end of the day, I have the ultimate confidence in my abilities. However I can help the team, that's what I will do."

Dameron said Brantley should be ready to go for Saturday's home game against Murray State at 6 p.m. Brantley was practicing this week, meaning EIU has two quarterbacks who can fill the No. 1 role on Saturday.

"It ain't like Harry won't be the only one that plays on Saturday. Johnathan is going to play. He's ready to go," Dameron said. "To me, I feel like both of them need to play and both of them are deserving of playing and we will continue to do that."

Woodbery knows the drill by now and he will be ready whenever his name is called, whether it's right at the start of the game or a series or two later.

"Go out and play when you are called on. That's always the mentality," Woodbery said. "Play the hot hand. Obviously, both of us can go out and produce big time so we feel like we can't lose with either guy."


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Contact Justin Rust at (217) 238-6856. Follow him on Twitter: @JustinRust

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