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Hill names Labanowitz as Salukis' starting QB

  • SIU head footballcoach and Du Quoin native Nick Hill answers questions at a news conference Monday, wheer he announced his starting quarterback for the season opener next week at SEMO.

    SIU head footballcoach and Du Quoin native Nick Hill answers questions at a news conference Monday, wheer he announced his starting quarterback for the season opener next week at SEMO.
    Saluki Media Relations photo

Saluki Media Relations
Posted on 8/21/2019, 1:50 PM

CARBONDALE -- Southern Illinois football head coach Nick Hill announced on Monday that sophomore Stone Labanowitz will be the team's starting quarterback. A third-year player who transferred to SIU from ASA Junior College (N.Y.) a year ago, Labanowitz will make his first-career Division I start on Aug. 29 at SEMO.

Labanowitz edged out junior college transfer Karé Lyles and redshirt freshman Nic Baker in a three-way competition during training camp. As a freshman at ASA in 2017, Labanowitz competed 72 percent of his passes and led his team to a 9-1 record. He threw for 2,275 yards and 23 touchdowns, including a 495-yard effort in a win over Erie College.

In 2018, Labanowitz was SIU's third-string quarterback behind Sam Straub and Matt DeSomer. He redshirted after appearing in one game at Ole Miss and completing one pass for six yards.

"This obviously was a difficult decision because we have three quarterbacks who I feel can win football games for us, and they all three attacked this competition and process the way they should and been good teammates and good to each other," said Hill. "We went back through a whole body of work of training camp and summer workouts, and we felt Stone was the most consistent guy. He was really trending up in the last week and putting together some good practices, live sessions, scrimmages and off-the-script periods. We said it was an open competition and he earned it. I'm excited that Stone Labanowitz is our starting quarterback."

Excerpts from Nick Hill Weekly Press Conference

On the school's first soccer match that took place on Saturday night and was attended by 2,149 fans.

For the community to come out and support them like that was awesome. I know our team was excited to be there and support them. It was a great way to kick off the semester with all the new kids to come on campus and see the support of one another and how everybody kind of came together. I'm excited for them.

On the team's progress during camp:

I'm excited about the way we ended training camp. I know we're ready to go play another team. As a coach, you wish you had a few more practices, you get 25 before your first game, so we'll utilize all of those, but I know those guys are ready to compete against someone else. I'm excited about the depth we've been able to create in training camp and how this team is shaping up. Ultimately, time will tell, as we go through this long season. We have to continue to have that focus and unselfishness.

On the importance of a supporting cast around the QB:

Putting great players around your quarterback is going to make that guy look better. It starts up front. I think you have to be able to run the football to have some success at quarterback. It doesn't matter who is behind center, that philosophy won't change. Tom Brady will tell you the same thing -- if they can't run the football, I'm probably not going to be that successful. We've to be able to get the ball out quick and get it to playmakers, we've got to be able to hand it to playmakers, we have to be able to set up the play-action game with be able to run the football. I think it all starts with that and I feel good about the pieces we have at the skill positions to be able to do that. I wouldn't have been a very good quarterback if we didn't have Arkee Whitlock and Braden Jones and Alan Turner -- good receivers and a stable of running backs that played here.

On the role of backup quarterback:

Days like today are not easy for a head coach whenever players come into your program and give you everything you've got and you have to give them the news they don't want to hear. Those guys have feelings and emotions, and they all came out here with the right attitudes. They're great kids and you have to remember they're 18-to-22-year olds. A quarterback position is different. If you get passed up, you get demoted, or some young guy comes and takes your spot and you're the outside linebacker, you still know you might go in 15 to 20 plays that game as a reserve or get to be on special teams, have an impact and go make plays. As a quarterback, you can be the No. 2 and hold the clipboard the entire year, or you can be one play away and go in at SEMO in the first quarter. You need mental toughness and be able to be committed to the process. There are two of them who are going to be upset, and rightfully so. If it was clear-cut and easy, we would have made this decision a long time ago and everybody would know their roles and it would be clear. There were times when all three played the best for the day. They all have to come and prepare (to be one play away). Some people will continue to prepare for that and be ready for that moment, some will take a couple weeks off and get into their feelings just a little bit and not be prepared and not take advantage of the moment when their time is called. It can go either way.

On the running back rotation:

You run 75 to 95 to 100 plays (in a game). At tailback you're not going to be in there for all 100. We'll use multiple running backs. I think D.J. Davis is our clear-cut starting running back and it's been nice to see him back in there the last week and really had a good day on Saturday. You can see he's got his twitch, the old D.J. He's experienced, he's tough, he's everything you want, but we also have to know it's a long season and you're not just going to wear him into the ground. The four backs we've talked about in training camp can play at a high level. I think Romeir Elliott has come in as a true freshman and he'll play in game one. Javon Williams (Jr.) and Tremayne Lee -- Javon is a big back who can move. They all kind of give you something different. D.J. is a guy you can move around and play at different positions. Romeir is a guy who's a blend of both -- he's a power back who's put into a short, 5-5 frame, powerful, quick and elusive. Javon is just a big athlete and we have to find ways to get him the ball. Tremayne really had a solid camp and a good scrimmage on Thursday and has proved to not just be a fourth-string guy, but a guy who can come in and move the chains as well.

On which true freshmen will play:

There are a few who will get their opportunity. We've had these conversations even this morning and yesterday and throughout the weekend. These guys we'll use for sure, whether it's just special teams, and see how they progress those first four games. Branson Combs is one of those guys that plays wide receiver but is really good on special teams. P.J. Jules is a corner that's probably still a little ways away as far as our depth at corner but can add some depth for us on special teams. Will Hopkins is a kid we've talked about on special teams who plays linebacker. Obviously, we talked about Romeir playing as a freshman. Tanner Corum is a kid in the return game, wide receiver, does a lot of good things. We had him at safety in the summer and moved him to wide receiver in training camp. He's a guy who can tackle, is a gunner on punt. If they can be starters on two or more special teams, I feel like we should play them.

On how his role as coach changes with the addition of Blake Rolan:

I'm going to call the plays from the sidelines and Blake (Rolan) will be in the box. I'll rely heavily on Blake as far as seeing things and keeping you on track. In the box you can keep notes about things you talk about between series and as I switch (focus) over to defense and there's special teams things going on and timeouts, penalties, you can put blinders on up there as a coordinator getting ready for the next series. The biggest difference between last year is I was in every single quarterback meeting as their position coach, too. (This year) during meetings, if I wanted to go sit in on a defensive meeting, I'd go sit in on a defensive meeting where I wasn't responsible for getting through every single play (in the QB room). I have different opportunities to meet with players one-on-one, call them out of meetings at night, but still heavily involved in the offensive side of the football.

On his philosophy evolving after three seasons as coach:

You have to be resilient, believe in what you're doing. You can't go changing things up, but you have to have tough conversations and be open to new ideas without reinventing the wheel. I still think the process we're on, with maybe some minor tweaks to what we do, is how we've gone about it. The core philosophy of how we practice, how we win football games, has remained the same. We've played a lot of close games and not come out on top in the last three years. I think any successful person, coach or team has to use those to their advantage, look back and learn from them. In the future when those things come up this year, we should be better from it. I've never wavered from feeling confident in the process. I've always slept well at night knowing we're doing the best job and putting the players in the best position.