NORMAL — Both junior Jake Kolbe and redshirt freshman Malachi Broadnax started late-season games at quarterback for the Illinois State football team.
The signal-calling picture gets even more crowded for the Redbirds in 2018.
Tristan Smith, who sat out the season as a redshirt, was Kolbe’s backup in 2016 as a true freshman and, like Broadnax, has three years of eligibility remaining. Trenton Hatfield also redshirted and has all four years to play.
“Kolbe has very good arm talent. He was better this year at a lot of things,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “But there are things he still needs to develop.”
Kolbe regressed statistically during his second season as the starter. His sophomore 61.9 completion percentage, 2,703 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions worsened as a junior to 55.6, 2,138, 12 and 11, respectively, this past season.
Broadnax showed an ability to run while exhibiting passing skills that clearly need polish. He rushed for 242 yards and completed 13 of 26 passes for 105 yards.
Smith and Hatfield will give ISU’s yet-to-be-named new offensive coordinator four options when spring practice opens.
“It’s up to the new quarterback coach and coordinator to figure that out,” said Spack. “Tristan made a lot of progress. Trenton will get an opportunity this spring to get a lot of snaps and see what he can do.”
ISU also has a prep quarterback committed to sign a national letter of intent to join the team next fall in Bryce Jefferson of Indianapolis.
The Redbirds have considerably more certainty among their running backs. Top rushers James Robinson (933 yards) and Markel Smith (581) return as do fellow tailbacks Artiss Henderson and Jordan Birch and fullback Jake Hendershot.
ISU also will welcome back an offensive line that received on-the-job training this season. Only center Dean Helt was a senior.
“We think it’s going to be a very good group as we continue to move forward,” Spack said.
Tackles Donavin O’Day and Drew Himmelman and guard Chad Kanugh were consistent starters. Erik Mikkelson started six games and Jared Rients five at left guard, while center Garrett Hirsch played four games at center.
While Hirsch is the top candidate to take over at center, redshirt freshman Drew Bones could provide competition.
“Garrett’s got a really good motor and he’s a really good athlete. But he’s got to turn himself loose sometimes,” said Spack of the Normal Community High School product. “He jams himself up and thinks too much. A lot of it is he’s a young player and he has to make a lot of (line) calls. He needs to become that guy.”
Other linemen such as Cole Anderson, Trey Georgie, Evan Day, John Ridgeway, John Ames and Spencer Stachyra as well as several highly regarded incoming recruits give Spack confidence the position will be strong for years to come.
Top receiver Spencer Schnell (51 catches, 679 yards) will have new partners next season with Christian Gibbs and Anthony Fowler graduating.
Antonio Hadden, Matt Biegalski, Kentre Patterson, Ricky Rollerson, Andrew Edgar and Brandon Price will compete for playing time, while Spack could add a more seasoned receiver as a transfer.
Tight end is secure with Tylor Petkovich (23 catches) and Robert Gillum both back.