Greg Panelli arrived at Eastern Washington University on New Year’s Day with the same uncertainties any college football transfer faces.
“When I first got here, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to find anybody to hang out with,” said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior-to-be, one of six quarterback prospects for the Eagles, who opened spring drills with a padless workout Wednesday afternoon. “I really felt like the lone guy.
“But after a week, I met the team going through winter workouts and everybody seemed to accept me. And, all of a sudden, I was hangin’ out with them. I’m glad it happened so quickly.”
Panelli, who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns as a two-year starter at Modesto (Calif.) Junior College, is in a fierce battle with fellow transfer and junior-to-be Bo Levi Mitchell and four holdovers from last year’s roster to replace Matt Nichols as coach Beau Baldwin’s starting quarterback next fall.
Panelli has done everything he can since arriving in Cheney to gain an edge over the other competitors, including sophomores-to-be Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett – who shared duties as Nichols’ backup last fall – and Nick Gauthier and Anthony Vito, who redshirted in 2009.
“I’ve been throwing to our receivers on the weekends, just to kind of get the timing down and go over the plays,” said Panelli, who added EWU’s no-huddle offense is similar to what he ran at Modesto JC. “I’ve still got some things to improve on, but I’ve got most of the basics down, and spring ball should help with everything after that.”
Mitchell, a 6-2, 210-pounder who started 19 games in two seasons at Southern Methodist University, where he threw for 4,590 yards and 36 touchdowns, is in much the same situation as Panelli. But he did take a recruiting trip to Eastern following his senior season at Katy (Texas) High School, where he was 29-1 in three seasons as a starter.
Since arriving last Tuesday, Mitchell has taken every opportunity he’s had to throw passes to 6-3 Nicholas Edwards and 6-5 Brandon Kaufman, a couple of rangy wide receivers who played major roles as freshmen last fall after senior Aaron Boyce’s season was short-circuited by a rupture of his Achilles tendon.
“The offense here is a lot like what we ran at SMU,” Mitchell said. “But I like the receivers here a lot, especially those two big guys on the outside. I’m not used to having guys like that who can go up and get the ball.”
Minnerly, a former prep standout at Ferris, ran with the No. 1 unit at the start of Wednesday’s initial spring practice and – along with Burgett – has an early advantage over the other quarterback prospects after having spent last fall learning the offense. Vitto and Gauthier were used primarily to run opponents’ plays on the scout team.
Minnerly said his biggest challenge this spring will be to show he can make all of the throws necessary to make Eastern’s spread passing game go.
“It’s not just a matter of making good decisions, but of being able to throw the ball down the field and make throws on time,” he said. “And to be able to operate the offense efficiently, which I think I have the ability to do.”
All of those competing for the chance to replace Nichols said the sheer number of candidates is a bit overwhelming.
“I’ve never been in a six-quarterback competition before, but it should bring out the best in everyone,” Panelli said. “You get everyone to compete and you can start separating the weakest from the best, so I think that’s good, in a sense.
“But it’s going to be hard to get enough reps for everyone.”
The Eagles will practice again at 4 p.m. today and then take five days off before putting on pads for the first time Tuesday.