TOLEDO — Just like each of the first five years of his tenure as Toledo’s head coach, Mike Christensen has to break in a new quarterback.
But as the Riverhawks opened fall camp Wednesday at Ted Hippi Field, there was another notable absence when it came to the spot under center: any sort of controversy.
They don’t really do quarterback competitions in Cheese Town, as it turns out. Instead, much the way Wyatt Nef slotted into the role last fall after barely playing varsity offense, Christensen and his staff have tabbed Austin Norris — who lined up at split end in 2021 before starting to work in as Nef’s backup late in the year — to lead the attack.
And like with Nef — and the majority of Riverhawks signal-callers since Christensen took over — that was a choice made long, long ago.
“They talked to me a little bit before,” Norris said. “My junior year they knew they’d be looking for a quarterback, and said I might be a good fit. I was just a decent player, I got the job done. But this year, I know I have to do better, I’ve got to do more. To become a quarterback, I have to start leading.”
But after a spring’s worth of reps and a summer’s worth of workouts, Norris was already starting to look at home commanding the offense.
“I’ve always kind of got an eye on the future as far as that goes, a guy that I’m thinking about.” Christensen said. “Austin, he didn’t play any quarterback until the end of last year, because we were looking at who would be the next guy. And then you have to hit it hard during spring, and then hit it hard during summer, and put them in as many high-rep, high-intensity situations as you can.
“You don’t always see it (early). Austin as a freshman, no one would’ve ever put him at quarterback because there’s no way he would’ve worked hard enough. By the time he was a sophomore and then definitely into his junior year, you realized that he’s going to put the work in, he’s got the athletic profile, so it kind of fits together.”
Norris said his goal was to be “a better Wyatt” by the time the season rolls around, looking up to his all-area predecessor who racked up 1,547 rushing yards and 629 passing yards in Toledo’s option offense.
If he can, that might have to do with a few more chances to air it out; indeed, the Riverhawks were already throwing the ball around a few times on Day 1, which wasn’t always a fixture in the offense. More importantly, it’ll come from Norris’ experience within the system — even if said experience didn’t come at quarterback — that made moving a senior over once again a better choice than going with a younger option.
“Part of it is our offense, and part of it is the way we build our system and the way that we teach our kids,” Christensen said.
Meanwhile, tailbacks Geoffrey Glass — who led Toledo in carries last fall — and Zane Raney both return to join Norris in the backfield, an easier situation to be in compared to 2021, when Christensen needed to replace just about all of his production.
And having already been designated as “the next guy up” for 10 months already, Norris will have nearly a year’s worth of experience by the time the Riverhawks head to Raymond-South Bend for their season opener on Sept. 2.
“I think we’re going to try to do a lot of the same things with Austin as Wyatt,” Christensen said. “They have a similar physical profile. Wyatt could do some things that Austin can’t, but Austin can also do some things that Wyatt couldn’t. It’s going to be a little bit of both. The offense probably isn’t going to look very different from the outside, but some of the small things that we do will be different.”