When P.J. Fleck and his Western Michigan football team took the field on Saturday for the annual Spring Game, dubbed the "Wooden Oar War", his ranks were depleted. A tumultuous off-season saw the departure of Jaime Wilson, the 2012 MAC Freshman of the Year, as well as some key seniors on defense and other players due to discipline.
Nevertheless, he and his 43 healthy players (Josh Bass was injured and did not play as well as J Schroeder, who had minor surgery earlier in the week) put on a show for a sparse crowd at Waldo Stadium on a beautiful day for football, with the "Gold" Team defeating the "Brown" team by a score of 28-17.
"The main factor that we wanted to be able to do (this Spring) was be healthy," Fleck said after the game. "We wanted to leave the Spring healthy, but what we (also) did was create a lot of leadership, and I don't think that was there last year."
And it showed.
The Broncos were decimated by injuries in the Fall, losing Wilson among others, forcing many young players to step into the spotlight prematurely. One such player was red-shirt freshman QB Zach Terrell. Now a sophomore, Terrell entered the Spring Game on the "Gold" roster, that was predominantly comprised of 1st-stringers, and put on a show.
With reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Corey Davis on his side, Terrell went 12-for-23 for 240 yards and 3 TDs, including a 79-yard bomb to Davis in the first quarter. The sophomore QB also had a few dropped passes from his wide-receivers, so his accuracy could've been a bit better statistically.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Cam Thomas was the quarterback for "Brown", and did well himself, despite a rocky start. On his first drive, Thomas stared down his receiver a bit too long, and an under-throw was easily read by Devon Brant, who took the pass 64 yards for a "pick-six", to open the scoring. However, Thomas settled in, distributed his passes well while also making solid runs, and finished 10-for-21 for 101 yards, 1 TD, and had 6 carries for 10 yards and another TD.
Davis led all receivers with 101 yards on just 3 receptions. Kendrick Roberts and Darius Phillips followed behind with 73 and 60 yards respectively, with each nabbing 4 receptions and a TD. Alec Moulton led the "Gold" team with 43 yards on 3 receptions. Rushing was almost a non-factor, with one-hand touch tackle rules in effect.
That all said, Fleck reminded everyone that this Spring was more for depth, rather than starting time.
"The competition starts in training camp," Fleck said. "We only had 43 guys out there (today), but once we bring in these 27 (incoming freshmen), we're going to be fighting and scratching for position. There's going to be a lot of new faces and a lot of new names (come Fall)."
So now the Broncos and their fans await the next few months to see who emerges, mainly at quarterback, where both Thomas and Terrell will battle each other and 4-star recruit Chance Stewart in the Fall for the starting job. Will Fleck turn things around from a 1-11 season a year ago? Will the Broncos continue to struggle against the MAC? Or most importantly, will the Broncos finally regain the Michigan MAC Trophy from rivals Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan? (they won the inaugural one in 2005, and have zero since)
All will be answered come August.