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ISU's Brown, Kiel renew QB battle
NORMAL — Much has changed in and around the Illinois State football program in the past year as Brock Spack enters his second season as coach.
Yet Matt Brown and Drew Kiel are right back where they were a year ago, in a tight tussle for the Redbirds’ starting quarterback job.
“It’s a healthy competition making each of us better,” Brown said Saturday after ISU held its first scrimmage of spring drills at Hancock Stadium. “It is what it is. Naturally, there is going to be a competition. I understand what coach is doing.”
“It’s good,” said Kiel. “We’re out here trying to help each other out as much as we can. We’re out here having fun. Let the coaches decide.”
Kiel edged Brown for the job last August and completed 20 of 22 passes in the opener before suffering a season-ending thumb injury.
Brown took over and won Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year honors by passing for 2,369 yards and completing 64 percent of his tosses.
Brown completed 10 of 14 passes for 97 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage. Kiel was 10 of 20 for 141 yards, while Matt Lancaster was 8 of 16 for 73 yards.
“They both played well,” Spack said. “Matt is still the starting quarterback. He ran the offense very well. Drew had some very nice throws and did some good things, too.”
Slowed by a sore hamstring early in spring camp, Brown also has recovered from a knee injury in the 2009 season finale.
“The knee is good,” he said. “I’m back 100 percent.”
Kiel believes his thumb is “actually better than what it was before I hurt it. It’s fun to get back out there and get in rhythm again.”
Michigan State transfer Ashton Leggett led the rushers with 64 yards on 11 carries. Wisconsin transfer Erik Smith had 46 yards on five attempts, and Cliffton Gordon ran for 35 yards on nine carries. Smith scored an impressive 11-yard touchdown by breaking one tackle and spinning past another.
Tyrone Walker caught four passes for 92 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown from Kiel. Walker absorbed a big hit at midfield but stayed on his feet to sprint down the sideline into the end zone.
Linebacker Josh Howe topped the tacklers with nine and forced a fumble. Xzavier Stewart had two sacks, Otis Merrill an interception and Austin Davis a fumble recovery.
“Compared to last year, we’re way above where we were,” said Davis, a sophomore linebacker. “Coach (defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian) said he set a new bar. He has high expectations. We’re trying to come out with the mentality of being physical.”
Golding era brief: Defensive end Nickcaro Golding, who transferred from Purdue for the spring semester, is no longer with the team, according to Spack.
“It’s a done deal pretty much,” Spack said. “He has some issues to deal with. It’s not working out. Four of five (Division I transfers) are doing good.”
Spack declined to elaborate on Golding’s departure.
Neukirch impresses: Redshirt freshman tight end/fullback Jordan Neukirch is making his presence felt as a runner in short yardage situations and as a receiver.
“I like a lot of the things he’s doing. He’s an athletic, big, tough guy,” said Spack. “We wanted him on defense. But as a fullback or on the line of scrimmage tight end, he’s going to be a really good player.”
By Randy Reinhardt