At this point in time, Garin Higgins likely knows who his starting quarterback will be come the season opener on Sept. 5.
But he’s not yet budging on his desire to keep it non committal to preserve camp’s competitive flow.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea, but just haven’t ... made that announcement yet,” Higgins said. “I think ... once somebody begins to show ... consistency (and) has those days put together, back-to-back-to-back to really ... establish themselves, (that will make it evident) who the starter’s going to be. Dalton (Cowan), coming into the fall camp, was the leader in the clubhouse and he’s got the upper hand. Now, those other guys, I’m going to give them opportunities and put them in situations, not only to see what they’ve been able to take from the spring, but also how much improvement they’ve made from their summer work.”
After moving on from the MIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Marstall, the trio of Cowan, Braden Gleason and Patrick Briningstool have been working hard to be a part of the 2019 Hornets’ plans.
“All three of those guys are doing a good job,” Higgins said. “They’ve put in the time in the summer (but) there’s some areas they’ve got to improve in.”
Cowan, who arrived two years ago as one of the Centennial League’s elite options, will likely stand the favorite, though Briningstool has the longest active tenure with ESU and Gleason, a southpaw, provides a different look.
“We’re all learning at the same time,” Cowan said. “We’re all ... stepping into new roles, trying to find leadership. I think it helps everybody out a lot because we don’t know what to expect, so we’re preparing for the best we possibly can.”
Cowan was thought by some to be the heir apparent upon Marstall’s graduation, and certainly didn’t disappoint. In his just his third game, he came in to give Marstall a breather and promptly threw a 54-yard touchdown strike on what would be his only snap during a Hornet win over Fort Hays State.
“Think of the confidence he gained from that one play,” Higgins said. “(It) kind of let everybody know who he was. That gave him a lot of confidence (and) I think he has a lot of confidence right now.”
Briningstool made his on-field debut two seasons ago to much less eye-popping results. In five games, he completed 5 of 10 passes, but for just 28 yards without a touchdown and with one interception. Last year, he redshirted with an injury and took his understanding of the game to a different level.
“Being up in the box on game day and just being able to see everything from that point of view and attacking each week (from) a coach perspective, it helped me a lot,” he said. “Those first two series (at Fort Hays State in 2017 were) great experience. That was probably the best defense in the country that year and ... I learned a lot that day in a short period of time.”
Higgins has certainly taken note of the sophomore’s contributions from then until now.
“He understands our offense so well,” he said of Briningstool. “He benefits from that and he takes advantage, that’s his strength.
“Braden and Dalton, both, can do things as far as getting out of the pocket and making some plays. Dalton has a very, very, very strong arm. Consistency is something we’re working on. That will come.”
Gleason, entering just his second year in the program, spent his redshirt season on the sideline and in the pregame quarterback sessions.
“(It helped), being the youngest in that room,” he said. “Learning from all of them, asking them questions, just learning how you play quarterback at Emporia. Then (I) got (time) on the sideline, watching Braxton go out there every Saturday and ball out.”
Among those skills on display were securing the ball, where ESU finished 2018 tied for the fewest interceptions thrown in the MIAA.
“They are protecting the football,” Higgins said of his trio of quarterbacks. “I think might have thrown, between those three guys, two interceptions in every rep that we’ve had (in the first week of) practices.”
Also aiding the quarterback’s performance is an experienced offensive line, which has given the young crew plenty of time to work so far in camp.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on offense, but everyone is excited to learn,” Cowan said. “We’ve got a veteran o-line, they’ve done an outstanding job.”
Now it’s time for the players behind them to make an impression.
“I think competition brings out the best in everybody,” Gleason said. “(It) helps everybody out, everybody’s competing to get that job, so it only makes everybody better at the end of the day.”
“Those guys take coaching really well. They ... understand how I am and I’ve been very pleased with how our quarterbacks are working right now.”