|Brady Huber is replacing the man at IC.
Illinois College athletics photo by Taylor Brien
It's never easy trying to replace a four-year starter, but when that four-year starter wraps up his year owning school records for touchdown passes, total yards and named all-conference for three consecutive years, it become a little tough to follow.
Throw in that the guy – Michael Bates – was Illinois College's first-ever finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy, the premiere individual award in all of Division III football, well, you get the picture.
That's what faced senior Brady Huber in his first start as the Blueboys took on Aurora on Saturday.
"I was a little anxious, to be honest with you," Huber said this week. "It's been three years playing behind Michael and now this is my first as a starter. College is a bigger level than high school and you can't let it get the best of you. There were some jitters but it subsided after the first few plays."
And did it. By the 8:51 mark of the first quarter, Huber had his first touchdown pass, a 12-yard score to Kyle Obertino. Before the end of the quarter, Huber threw his second touchdown, a 19-yard score to Andy Webb.
By the end of the game, Huber completed 26 of 40 passes for 349 yards, throwing for five touchdowns while running for another with no interceptions. He also added 43 yards on nine carries on the ground.
So much for jitters.
"One of the big things you notice is that every play is different," Huber said, pointing to how he has to stay mentally sharp snap-by-snap. "In high school, there wasn't many changes on offensive and defense, just little adjustments. Defenses are much more complex in college. In Saturday's game, I remember us running the same route combination three times and the defense covering it three different ways."
While Huber opening-start numbers were glowing, completing 65 percent of his passes, his coach Garrett Campbell looked at his signal-caller's effort with a more critical eye.
"He made some good plays and he had some misfires," Campbell said about Huber's first win. "I'm probably a little tougher on quarterbacks and didn't grade him as high as other people who looked at his stats. Now, for his first start, I'm pretty happy. He probably would have been a starter for us as a freshman if we didn't have Michael here."
Campbell said the mistakes Huber made were more technical than anything and like only things that can be resolved during live snaps in game situations, but wanted to be clear he was pleased with his starter's progress.
"I'll be honest, I don't think anyone in program had anxiety about Brady starting," Campbell said. "The unique thing that we do here is have the starter splits reps in practice. Michael only took half the reps and the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks got the rest, so we can always have a quarterback ready.
"Going into the game, we pretty much knew what Brady was capable of and is still capable of. The only thing about was that he hadn't had a chance to do it as a starter," Campbell added.
But can the senior who waiting three years behind Bates actually fully replace him and lead the Blueboys to a repeat Midwest Conference South Division title and maybe even a conference championship?
Campbell said the last thing he wants Huber to be thinking about is trying to be another Bates. He said his quarterback will be just fine being the best Brady Huber he could be.
"First of all, they're very different quarterbacks," Campbell said. "Brady's got a much stronger arm but he's not as much of a runner as Michael. Brady brings a lot of things to the table. He's a very mature young man. He's always on the dean's list.
"I've never asked him to be like Michael. In fact there were a couple of throws he made in the Aurora game that I thought was not his strength and not in his skill set and I told him afterward to just be yourself."
Huber said for him the season will be about winning as much as he can as a senior and making the right plays at the right time. He said, though, he will only be able to accomplish that with the help of his teammates.
"I just want to give a huge shout out to my offensive line because they kept us clean all day and allowed me to go out and just play the game," Huber said. "You can't replace Michael Bates with one person. I have some wide receivers who I know will be able to make plays and that takes a lot of pressure off you. I know you need to spread the ball around to fill the void."
That was something Huber did well on Saturday, completing passes to eight different receivers with Austin Ellsworth catching eight of those passes Obertino and Logan Uyetake catching six passes each.
Spreading it around may come in handy when Illinois College plays its first home game Saturday against Rose-Hulman. The game last year would strike fear in any football statistician, with the Fighting Engineers taking a 74-68 victory against the Blueboys.
"Yeah, there's a lot of anticipation for that one," Huber admitted. "We've watched a little bit of film on it and I'm sure we'll watch some more. I like our athletes against their defense. We remember that loss -- a lot of people are looking forward to it."
Campbell said Huber's numbers likely be predicated on how defenses play them over the next nine games.
"If teams try to take away our running game, I think he will continue his success throwing the ball," Campbell said. "If teams start to play soft and play back, then we'll showcase our running backs. It has always been our philosophy to take what the defense gives and we have a complex enough of a system to do that.
“But whatever they do, Brady's future (at quarterback) is bright."