Nick Dingus, Sports Editor
After a record outing for Preston Haire last Saturday, the Bison’s quarterback controversy may finally see an end. The redshirt freshman Haire entered the game on Saturday trailing 28-0 to the Muleriders of Southern Arkansas University. Haire promptly led the Bison on a 70 yard drive to get on the board for the first time that night. Haire’s success continued through the night as he led his team to three more touchdowns from under center before the final whistle. Haire’s four passing touchdowns is the highest for any OBU quarterback in the NCAA era, and ties with Blake Woodward for the school record. Woodward hit this mark four times in 2014 while leading the Bison to an 8-3 record during OBU’s last year as an NAIA member.
Over the last several years, OBU’s football team has been rebuilding following a seven decade hiatus. There are few things more important to a successful football team than stability at quarterback, and during this period, the Bison have been fortunate enough to have had stability in this area. The quarterback is the leader of the offense, he is the single player that touches the ball on every play. Between the huddle and snapping the ball he must decipher the opposing team’s defense and based on what he sees, make adjustments accordingly. He must then do the same thing only moments later after the ball is snapped; only this time he must do it while in the midst of controlled chaos. The outcome of every game hangs in the balance of these moments of chaos where the quarterback must read and react instantly. The ability to do this is not only a matter of skill, but of experience.
Undoubtedly, the Bison have two quarterbacks that are capable of this, Senior Dezmond Stegall has proved this as a two-year starter previous to this season. After beating out incumbent Blake Woodward for the starting spot in 2015, Stegall led the Bison to two consecutive 2-9 seasons. During these two seasons Stegall showed flashes of brilliance, but only in intervals. Despite some inconsistency in his production, Stegall, as a dual threat quarterback was a key weapon in Coach Chris Jensen’s offense. During those two seasons, Stegall saw no real competition for the starting spot.
Following a second two-win season in 2016, there were questions as to how the team would perform the next year as Stegall would be entering his senior season, many believed that he would rightly keep his spot and become OBU’s first three-year starter at quarterback. Certainty slowly developed to uncertainty as spring practice progressed and teammates saw a possible challenger, redshirt freshman Preston Haire. After a productive outing in last year’s spring game, teammates and fans alike were praising Haire’s performance.
Haire lived up to the praise, coming off the bench in the Bison’s first game of the season, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to East Central University. Stegall threw for 210 yards and a single touchdown in the same game. Since the first game of this season, Stegall and Haire have split playing time. Stegall has remained the starter, while Haire has come off the bench, usually after the Bison are already down by multiple scores.
When asked to compare the two quarterbacks a teammate said, “They’re both good. Dez definitely has more experience as Preston, but he plays in bursts. One game he’s on fire and the next he just can’t get going. Preston has a lot of natural ability and skill. He just doesn’t have the experience that Dez does.”
While quarterback battles are not uncommon in football, they generally only last several games. The constant change in leadership, both in style and in pace, makes it difficult for an offense to find its rhythm. Most coaches will have picked a full-time starter by the third game of the season as to not continuously disrupt their offense. However, despite Haire having nearly double the passing numbers of Stegall, coach Jensen seemingly has not made up his mind. Players and fans alike are eager for a decision to be made with opinions split as to who should get the starting job. Bison Sports Network play-by-play announcer Jason Burger put it into perspective
“It’s not an easy choice, but at some point the coaching staff needs to do what is best for the team. As they sit now [at 0-5] they should probably start looking towards the future. That would mean giving Haire more playing time. As a senior, Dez is done here after this season. On the other hand, Haire has three more years of eligibility after this season, going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if the coaching started to build the offense around him.”
The Bison play at home the next two weeks against Henderson State (2-3) on October 7th and the University of Arkansas- Monticello (2-3) on October 14th.