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Western Michigan's Zach Terrell wasn't about to back down. The opportunity was too great for this former Homestead standout. Last year, as a true freshman, he beat out senior Tyler Van Tubbergen for the starting quarterback job.
He began preseason camp with a pair of freshman to deal with, including four-star prospect Chase Stewart, who once was committed to Wisconsin.
Last weekend, after a three-week battle, the former Homestead standout won the job. On Saturday at Purdue, he'll get a chance to show what that means.
What should the Boilers' defense expect from Terrell? Movement, coach Darrell Hazell said.
“The quarterback does a good job of moving around. He's not a big run guy, but he moves around, slides in the pocket, finds open guys. He was pretty efficient towards the back end of the season. You could watch his progress as the year went on.”
Terrell didn't become the starter until last October, and didn't buckle against the challenge. Against Michigan State's powerhouse defense he threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for 184 yards against Toledo and 204 yards against Ball State. He had four touchdown passes against Massachusetts.
Overall he completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,602 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 122 yards.
In many ways, Terrell's improvement mirrored that of Purdue's Danny Etling, also a true freshman who didn't become the starting quarterback until last October.
“He's a guy you watch his progression, and he got better,” Hazell said of Terrell. “They like to keep him on the move when they can. He wants the ball out of his hands. They're playing some young linemen. He does not want to hold onto the ball.”
Terrell demonstrates that high school rankings doesn't always reflect college potential. As a Homestead senior he was ranked No. 51 in the state, No. 198 at his position.
Still, he threw for 6,940 yards in high school, and set school single-season records for yards (2,625), touchdowns (38) and completion percentage (72.6) as a senior. His 89 career touchdowns passes also are a school record.
Beyond that, Homestead was 29-5 with Terrell as the starting quarterback with four straight Northeast Hoosier Conference titles. He also played on the Spartans' state power basketball team.
That winning edge is big after last year's 1-11 record in coach P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan debut season.
Quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca said Terrell has “picked up from where he left off in the spring. He understands the offense.”
Ciarrocca said the key is teaching Terrell “how to think deductively.”
“He has to make a lot of quick decisions prior to the snap. Understand the system and allow the system to work for him.”
It helps that Terrell has sophomore receiver Corey Davis, last season's Mid-American Conference freshman of the year after caching 67 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns.
“He might be their best player offensively,” Hazell said. “He runs good routes. He catches the ball around people. He's a tough kid. He plays with a lot of confidence. You can see it on film. He plays with a tremendous amount of confidence.”
Fifteen true freshmen are in Western Michigan's two-deep roster, which reflects a class ranked No. 60 nationally by Rivals.com.
Hazell expects the Broncos to go after Etling.
“They bring a lot of pressure. They're going to hang their hats on bringing five-man pressures, keep one guy in the middle and try not to let the ball over the top of their heads.”
As for Purdue, Hazell wants a major turnaround from his 1-11 debut season. He said he's seen a big jump in a defense that last year gave up a school record 456 points.
“They're running to the ball better,” Hazell said. "They're more physical, more gap sound. You go right down the list, check off things. We're better in the back end. They're playing so hungry right now.
“If they can continue to do that, if we can put pressure on the quarterback, we'll be a very, very good defense.”
Overall, he added, “I want to see our team come out with a lot of confidence, with a lot of energy and an execution level that's off the chart. I want to see few mental mistakes. A lot of times in the first game, you'll have that. I don't want to see any of that stuff.
"We've tightened the game plan down so we can execute at a high level, and that's what I want to see us do."