By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois University football coach Dale Lennon announced on Monday that Mark Iannotti will be the team's starting quarterback.
Iannotti transferred to SIU from Eastern Michigan after the 2013 season and has impressed the coaching staff not only with his throwing ability but with his toughness and confidence.
"He's a competitor, nothing scares him," Lennon said. "Sometimes he'll make a bad throw, but he'll bounce right back from it and come back with an even better throw. I just love his competitiveness."
A native of Schaumburg, Ill., Iannotti did not complete a pass in three seasons as a backup with the Eagles, including a redshirt year in 2011. He was impressive in last Saturday's scrimmage, though, completing seven passes, including a 50-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Tay Willis.
At 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, Lennon likened the junior signal caller to former Saluki star Joel Sambursky -- a dual-threat QB who can beat you with both his passing and running ability.
"The throws he's making right now -- he's very confident," Lennon said. "He's making the tough throws where coverage is there and he's (still) getting it to his receivers."
Lennon said Iannotti's leadership ability was a key intangible that factored into the decision.
"From Day One, he hasn't been overbearing," Lennon explained. "He's done what he's needed to do to earn the respect of his teammates. He's one of the guys. He like hanging out with the guys, but he's also willing to hold everybody accountable. All those qualities that you like in a quarterback, he's demonstrated."
2. The Salukis' lead recruiter for Iannotti was offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, both when he was in high school and again after the 2013 season. Ironically, shortly after Iannotti made his visit to Southern, DeBoer was hired by Eastern Michigan.
3. Iannotti had the lead in the quarterback derby at the end of spring ball, and a solid off-season plus a strong first week of camp only reinforced the decision to make him the starter.
4. It's unusual for college coaches to allow live contact on a quarterback during a practice or scrimmage. In spring ball, however, Lennon allowed full live contact on the quarterbacks, to see how they would respond. Iannotti passed the test with flying colors. He stood in the pocket and delivered strong throws in the face of heavy pressure, absorbing numerous big hits. That impressed coaches and teammates.
5. Although Ryan West lost the quarterback battle, his play has improved over last season. He was 3-1 as a starter in 2013, winning games against Western Illinois, Illinois State and Indiana State. He lost to Missouri State and was unable to protect a second-half lead against No. 1 North Dakota State.
6. Junior QB Matt Vincent was throwing on the side today and is scheduled to return to practice later this week. He will be third on the depth chart.
7. One of the biggest takeaways from Saturday's live scrimmage was the improved running game. Against a very good run defense, RB Malcolm Agnew was terrific, needing only 16 carries to surpass 100 yards. He didn't do it with one big run, either. Half of his carries were in the 5-to-10 yard range. RB Mika'il McCall was also impressive. Physically, he looks in great shape, and more importantly, the former Iowa Hawkeye punished the defense with his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.
8. SIU's starting offensive line deserves credit for the running game as well. They are developing a bit of nastiness.
9. Now that Lennon has named a starter at quarterback, Iannotti will take all the reps with the No. 1 offense and the team will start game-planning at the end of this week for the Aug. 28 opener against Taylor.