CHARLESTON — When Eastern Illinois football coach Kim Dameron brought in Scott Parr as the new offensive coordinator, both of them agreed they needed at least three more quarterbacks on the roster with only redshirt freshman Scotty Gilkey Jr. and freshman Jaylon Banks returning.
Not only did Dameron want more competition at the position, he has is coming off a season where injuries caused depth issues at the position. Senior Mitch Kimble was injured early in the season, and EIU turned to Gilkey, who also suffered an injury. Bud Martin then got snaps. Banks was able to redshirt this season, but five quarterbacks would give the Panthers a lot more depth.
"Last year when we were down to one quarterback — I don't want to be in that situation again. That's not fun," Dameron said. "With one quarterback left, if he goes down, that's scary."
The Panthers already got one quarterback during the early signing period with Navarro Junior College transfer Harry Woodbery, who has three years of eligibility left and is on campus.
On Wednesday during the main National Signing Day, Dameron, Parr and the rest of the staff brought in two more quarterbacks — one FBS transfer and one freshman. Johnathan Brantly, who played two seasons at Tulane and played in six games this season including a start against Oklahoma, is a mid-season transfer who is on campus. Qua Gray will be a freshman and finished his prep career at Coronado High School in Lubbock, Texas, with 10,683 passing yards, the 12th most in Texas football history, and 125 touchdowns, the 10th most in Texas history.
Now Dameron has five quarterbacks who he feels fits Parr's Air Raid offense.
"They're all guys that can extend plays, throw the football and then also can lead this football team. It will be a fun spring watching the quarterbacks that are here now, and once Qua gets here, fun to see him compete," Dameron said.
All five of the quarterbacks will see reps in practice, too, because of the Air Raid offense.
"To practice in this offense, I didn't know this until I delved into it, you need five quarterbacks at the same time because all of the quarterbacks are in some drill that we do," Dameron said. "No matter if you are listed No. 1 or No. 5, you get reps every day. I am excited to see Scotty and Jaylon in this offense. The two guys we brought in at midseason, I am excited to watch them compete. Once Qua gets here, he is familiar with the offense since coach Parr's brother is his coach."
EIU signed nine players on Wednesday, pushing the number of signees for the 2018 class to 16 after the early signing period in December.
Seven of the 16 players EIU signed are from Texas originally. EIU defensive coordinator Cary Fowler coached in the state of Texas for a number of years, as did Parr. So they have plenty of contacts in Texas. EIU also has two players from Arkansas in this class, which is where Dameron used to coach.
"Obviously, we try and recruit where our strengths are and where the relationships are. When you have three other FCS schools, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Illinois here, we try and find the best players we can find," Dameron said. "You go where players are and where you are familiar. We are always going to be in St. Louis and will try and get guys from Indiana and Chicago, but it just happened this year that the guys that we were looking for in those positions were in Texas and Arkansas."
Dameron said EIU still might have a scholarship or two to use yet. EIU also brought in wide receiver DeWayne Cooks Jr., kicker Josh Delgado, defensive lineman Zavion Moore, cornerback Charles Shelton IV, offensive lineman Eliki Tanuvasa and safety Darius Waddell on Wednesday.
"I am very proud of this class. I think we got some really good football players," Dameron said. "I am excited about some of the explosiveness we've been able to recruit, and we addressed some needs at defensive back and the defensive line. Some of it was before Christmas, some of it was after. It takes a lot of people to recruit. Our staff, I thought they did a heck of a job not only finding kids but targeting these young men before and after Christmas. It was a long process."