SALT LAKE CITY — When asked what his timeline for naming a starting quarterback was, Southern Utah University head coach Demario Warren hesitated before answering.
“Game day?” he said laughing. “Honestly, whenever we feel most comfortable. We want to make sure we evaluate as much as we can and give those guys an opportunity to succeed in leading our team.”
With the team’s Sept. 1 opener at Northern Alabama just a week away, Warren said they have such depth with those players competing for the job that it’s been difficult to single any of them out.
The three players vying for the starting quarterback job are a diverse but talented group. First, there is the local talent, freshman Tyler Skidmore, who recently served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Junior Chris Helbig is a Colorado native and transfer from Butler Community College. Junior Aaron Zwahlen is a California native and transfer from the University of Hawaii.
As the Thunderbirds look to improve on their 9-3 season in which they lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs to Big Sky and in-state rival Weber State, one thing is clear — if building a successful team starts at the line of scrimmage, then SUU has a solid foundation.
Five players were named to the preseason all-Big Sky team in July, and three of those were offensive linemen. Zach Larsen, who was an All American center, PJ Nu’usa and Marquez Tucker were the linemen recognized, while cornerback Jalen Russell and linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu were also honored.
Warren said the team’s leadership comes from its linemen.
“They’re the strongest group in our program right now,” he said. “That’s academically, on the field and with community service. They’ve been willing and able to lead our program in every way.”
The quarterbacks will have a solid group of receivers in Landen Measom, Judd Cockett, Ty Rutledge and Isaiah Diego-Williams.
While the linemen are the heart of the team, the offense also has significant depth at running back. Junior Jay Green, sophomore Terrance Beasley, sophomore Lelon Dillard and junior James Felila could all contribute.
On the other side of the ball, however, it’s a different story.
“Defensively, we have a whole new cast of characters,” Warren said.
Obviously, Russell and Ahanonu provide experience and leadership, as does redshirt senior Kyle Hannemann. Junior college transfer CJ Scott and sophomore safety Alex Sims have experience that will bolster the defense.Comment on this story
SUU’s success the past few years, as well as the success of individual players like linebacker James Cowser, who recently had an interception in an Oakland Raiders' preseason game, have only raised expectations in Cedar City.
“The belief here has become stronger and stronger, year in and year out,” Warren said. “We just want to keep working hard and have opportunities to continue to be successful. We’re going to focus on each game and doing our best. Obviously, we have goals, and on our goal board every year is a Big Sky Championship.”