The loss of both the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks from last fall left the Bemidji State football coaches scrambling in the offseason...but they found their man.
Josh Williams will be BSU's next signal caller Thursday when the Beavers host Minnesota-Duluth at 7 p.m. in both team's season openers.
Williams, who battled redshirt freshman Cory Wardrope all spring and most of fall practice for the starting spot, replaces record-setting QB Nate Sannes.
"Josh has made a lot of strides since the spring; he has a much better understanding of the offense," BSU quarterbacks coach Eric Medberry said. "He gives us another dimension athletically that maybe we haven't had in recent years."
Williams (6-foot-0, 220 pounds) said it's a combination of several things that have helped him adjust to becoming the starting quarterback.
"I'm more than comfortable in the pocket because of the o-line and all of the receivers are making it easy for me out there," he said.
The Los Angeles Southwest Community College transfer steps into a role that has produced four record-setting careers at BSU.
Ben Morie, who spent the last four years on BSU's coaching staff and is currently in his first season as offensive coordinator at Upper Iowa University, Geoff Martinson, Jason Smith and Sannes, who graduated, are all at or near the top of every category in BSU's record book.
Most recently, Sannes set BSU single-season records for attempts (320), completions (186) and touchdown passes (27) and tied the school record with six 250-yard games last season.
Williams believes he fits well into BSU's offense; that could mean he may end up in the same group of record-setting QBs.
"I get to toss the ball around and run a little bit," he said. "I'm very comfortable doing that."
Williams didn't have the best of seasons at LASCC. He passed for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns on 70-168 passing and finished 15th in the Western State Conference in total offense.
But, he said, he wasn't comfortable.
"I had a lot of talent around me at Los Angeles Southwest but just couldn't quite get it together with unity," he said. "That's what I find up here."
The unity found in Bemidji was evident this spring when Williams ended 13-20 for 174 yards and a touchdown in BSU's spring game.
Williams will have a quality backup in Wardrope (6-1, 175). True freshman Derek Edholm (6-0, 160, Anoka, Minn.) is listed as the No. 3 QB.
"I'm feeling good going into the first game; I feel a lot more prepared than I did this spring," Williams said. "I feel comfortable with all the offensive weapons we have."
One weapon that will be looked to for a big season is junior Anthony Schreiber (6-0, 180).
The Berkeley, Ill., native caught 69 balls for 957 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He made the Top 10 for a single season in the BSU record books in all three categories and his 69 catches representing the second-most ever by a Beaver in a single season. He set BSU's single-game receptions record with 18 - three for TDs - at the Metrodome Classic. He totaled 239 yards in that game.
"There are a lot of expectations from how I ended up last year," Schreiber said. "I don't feel pressured at all, I'm very excited; I want to break some records and win a lot of games.
"I'm setting the bar higher this year."
Schreiber enters this season needing 13 catches, 360 yards and one touchdown to move into BSU's career Top 10 in all three categories.
Schreiber said it hasn't taken long to feel that he and Williams are on the same page.
"Josh and I compliment each other really well," he said. "The more we play together the better we'll be."
Schreiber's ability to make plays and his overall knowledge of the system has taken some pressure off Williams too. "It makes it easier on Josh if he doesn't have to worry about us making mistakes," Schreiber said.
Schreiber's big-play ability likely won't be the only thing noticeable about his game this fall.
"He's continued to improve on his blocking," Medberry said. "Obviously he's a great weapon for us and a guy that we look to have big things happen to this year."
Schreiber isn't the only weapon at wide receiver. The Beavers return senior starters Danny Rodgers (6-1, 180) and Jonathan Hawks (5-8, 165). Add Rainey River Community College transfer Frank Jones into the mix and the starting lineup is solid.
"This is probably one of the best groups of wide receivers since I've been here," Rodgers said. "We have four strong starters and four strong backups."
Medberry said a total of 12 receivers will likely see time on the field.
Behind Rodgers will be sophomore Kyle Jorgenson (6-3, 190). Backing up Hawks are sophomore George Kadlec (6-2, 190) and junior Jeremy Pachal (6-2, 205).
Redshirt freshmen Warren Ballard (6-1, 200) will back up Jones as will Chad Christianson (6-2, 210) who is currently recovering from an injury. Christianson is tied for fifth all-time at BSU with 15 career touchdown receptions. He returns for a sixth season of eligibility due to a medical hardship as a result of an injury suffered in 2004.
Schreiber will have another up-and-comer behind him. True freshman Andrew Schultz (6-1, 180, Grand Forks, N.D.) has emerged through fall camp and will not be redshirted.
Medberry said senior Eric Christianson (6-0, 195) and redshirt freshmen Zac Preble (6-6, 205) will also be in the mix somewhere. Eric Christianson, twin brother of Chad, returns to the team following a two-year absence. Preble is a converted defensive end.
"It's a good group, a group we're excited about," Medberry said. "We have high expectations for them."
Rodgers said there's good reason for the high expectations.
"We all possess overall skill," Rodgers said. "Blocking is a big part of our offense and we're all good at that.
"Everybody has been making plays out there already."
The aerial attack for the Beavers will also have another option this fall.
Senior John Larson (6-5, 255), who has battled injuries the past two years, will be an added threat at tight end.
"Hopefully he's a guy that we can throw out there and be a viable option for us," Medberry said of Larson.
Rounding out the roster at receiver are freshmen Adam Berg (6-2, 180, Cambridge, Minn.) and Tyler Zelinski (6-1, 190, Sartell, Minn.) and junior Mat Davis (6-3, 230). Behind Larson is freshman Ian Seymour (6-2, 200, Duluth, Minn.).