Preseason training camp is always full of decisions for coaches of any sport, but Wheaton (Ill.) head coach Mike Swider will be wrestling with a big one during the next few weeks.
The Thunder does not have just one highly successful starting quarterback. They have two – seniors Garrett Meador and Jordan Roberts.
Roberts won the starting job as a sophomore in 2010 after competing with Meador in preseason camp, and went on to lead the Thunder to the Division III playoffs and a 10-2 record while setting the school record for completion percentage (66.4).
Roberts was scheduled to be the starter again in 2011, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in a preseason scrimmage. Meador took over the starting job, and ran with it. Wheaton went 8-2 on the year, and Meador was named College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Player of the Year and North Region Player of the Year, while posting the second-highest completion percentage in school history. Two weeks ago, Meador was named a preseason first-team All-American by d3football.com.
“The bottom line is we have two quarterbacks that can lead us to a championship,” Swider said. “There are two quarterbacks here that are equally capable and equally experienced, and are coming into compete with the idea they can be the guy … and that is the case.”
The pair also brings two different looks to the Thunder offense. Roberts rushed for 493 yards in 2010, while Meador racked up five 300-yard passing performances last season.
“Jordan is probably a little better runner,” Swider said. “He probably brings that dimension to the offense. He throws it, he runs it, he adlibs. When things break down, he has the ability to create and run the football. He is an extremely accurate thrower. Garrett probably has a stronger arm and is more of a pure passer.”
Both signal-callers were highly regarded coming out of high school.
“Both of them had opportunities at bigger schools, and they both chose Wheaton because of the Christian community and the way they would be encouraged in their faith,” Swider said.
Roberts, a native of Yorkville, Ill., was a two-time all-state quarterback, who owns 14 Illinois High School Association records, including passing yards and passing touchdowns.
“It was a combination of good football, location — my mom loved that, and most of all it was faith-based,” Roberts said.
Meador, a native of Fishers, Ind., guided Heritage Christian High School to a state runner-up finish and was named National Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team All-American by the National Christian Schools Athletic Association.
“Within every football team there is a brotherhood, but when you add the Christian element, it’s a double-whammy,” Meador said. “It makes for a very close-knit group and tight bond.”
One of the ways the Wheaton football program instills that closeness is by organizing annual mission trips during Spring Break. Meador and Roberts have both participated, visiting third-world countries in Africa and Haiti in order to help those less fortunate.
“When you put yourself second to a cause or someone else, you come back a better person,” Swider said. “There is no question that every one of our players comes back and is absolutely marked.”
“Those trips are absolutely unbelievable,” Meador said. “When you’re in a third-world country serving people in poverty, and you have a brother to the right of you, you become pretty close when you tackle questions like, ‘Why is this happening to these people?’ ”
That question may be as tough to answer as “Who will be Wheaton’s starter in the season opener?”
“Our players believe in either one of them because they’ve each performed,” Swider said.
And, there is no doubt both Roberts and Meador are up for the challenge.
“When any true athlete or competitor hears the phrase ‘battling for your position’, that gets you excited because that’s what you want,” Meador said. “You want that competition because that’s also going to make the best player.”
“If you have someone who is battling with you for the starting spot, you’re going to work that much harder in the weight room, in the film room, out on the field and as being a leader,” Roberts said.
“I’m going to go out there and give it my all. Regardless of the situation, I’ll understand it and know that whatever happens is best for the team. Whoever the QB is for Wheaton, it will be a guy that has the experience of having been successful in his college career.”
Preseason camp opened on Aug. 8, and Swider went into it with an open mind.
“They’re coming in on equal levels and they are going to compete,” Swider said. “You don’t rule anything out. We’re going to feel our way through this thing. As we work our way through camp and practices, we’re going to try to identify a starting quarterback, but if for some reason we think each of them do certain things well, if that’s the best thing for the team we’ll play them both.”
Wheaton opens the season on Aug. 30 as the Thunder hosts Benedictine at McCully Stadium. The Thunder are ranked No. 15 in the d3football.com Preseason Top 25, and was picked to finish second behind North Central (Ill.) in the CCIW preseason coaches’ poll.
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