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2016 MAC Player Countdown #4: Zach Terrell, QB, WMU

The WMU football program is lucky to have Zach Terrell

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Toledo Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A WMU Great

Terrell was a third team All-MAC player a year ago. He got there thanks to another eight win season to go along with 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions and over 3,500 yards passing. It’s no fluke, Terrell is one of the best quarterbacks in the entire conference, and he’ll have a real opportunity to prove it once again in 2016.

He may even cement his status as the best to ever play the position at Western Michigan. Terrell will likely leave school a record holder in multiple categories, needing just 368 completions and 2,762 passing yards to surpass Tim Hiller in both categories for his career.

And yet while his ability shocks none of us now, it’s important to remember that just a few short years ago none of this would have seemed possible. The WMU program has undergone a tremendous turnaround under P.J. Fleck, but all analysis of the turnaround should begin and end with the play of Zach Terrell.


In fall of 2013 in East Lansing, Michigan, the season already felt weird. The sort of rabid, illogical optimism that afflicts all of college football’s fan bases never seemed to set in in Kalamazoo. In its place hung a set of cautious expectations for a football team with too many questions to answer.

Who’s this “Fleck” guy? Can he even coach? What was that about boats? Seriously, “Row The Boat?”

The depth chart didn’t help alleviate concerns, either. Sitting on that chart was a backup quarterback by the name of Zach Terrell, a two star recruit out of Fort Wayne, Indiana who once had offers from the likes of Illinois State and Kent State. The redshirt freshman was an excellent high school football player with interest beyond the three offers, but still, his presence didn’t comfort fans in the event of an injury to Tyler Van Tubbergen.

Nor did he instill any feelings of confidence as he trotted out on the field to take over for Tyler Van Tubbergen in the second quarter of a one score game at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans would go on to win the Rose Bowl. The Broncos were hanging on for dear life, and were about to get a first look at their future quarterback - they just didn’t know it yet.


Terrell’s first ever pass from scrimmage in his career was a 14 yard touchdown pass to Clark Mussman. It’s a footnote in what was the most forgettable season in Bronco football history. Not just recent history. History, history. But on that play, Terrell delivered, when few expected he would.

Fast forward to 2014 and the now redshirt sophomore from Fort Wayne is coming off an eight touchdown season to as many interceptions. He completed 53 percent of passes and averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. He showed promise, but was the starter on a team picked to finish fourth in the MAC West. So naturally his head coach calls on him publicly to complete 70 percent of his passes in order for the offense to work. Cue the doubts.

To quote myself, “no way.”

He didn’t technically hit 70 percent, rather, he hit 67.9, but did so along with 26 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, 9.5 yards per attempt and won eight football games. Many would have been happy with four. There was crow to be had by all that season. Zach Terrell was second team All-MAC, and he delivered when few expected he would.

If Terrell leads the Broncos to a MAC championship this season, he will have accomplished what many thought impossible just three years ago, but given what we’ve seen so far, what reason do we have to doubt? A small handful of poor performances against NIU and Bowling Green are perhaps a fair criticism of Terrell’s legacy, but all of that can be erased in this his final season.