DURHAM -- The search started when the 2018 season ended.
It continued through winter workouts and spring football and University of New Hampshire football head coach Sean McDonnell and quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos fully expect it will last through the beginning of fall camp and perhaps right up until the season opener against Holy Cross on Sept. 7.
The Wildcats -- who close out spring practice with their annual Blue-White game on Saturday at noon at Wildcat Stadium -- are in the market for a starting quarterback with the graduation of Trevor Knight, who’s been calling the shots the last few years.
Santos, the most successful QB in program history, is back to lead the quest and is excited about the process and the prospects.
“I absolutely love it,” Santos said. “I really, really like the group as a whole. I think they all care. I think they’re really, really good kids. I think they’re emerging as good leaders. That’s another thing we talk about all the time, that the quarterback position has to instill hope in a team. There are 120 young men looking at you to be a leader and as a beacon of hope ... They need to be great teammates in the locker room, great teammates at practice, always giving great effort and being somebody that can be relied on in terms of that.”
Redshirt freshman Bret Edwards, freshman Max Brosmer, sophomores Tommy Herion and Stephen Hedberg and senior Ivan Niyomugabo are in the running for the job.
Herion, 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, is the only one in the group who has taken a snap at quarterback in college. He completed 25 of 53 passes for 284 yards last season.
“I think he is a really good game manager,” Santos said. “He understands the system really well. I think he can make some passes in the run-pass-option game. He’s got a really quick release so he’s someone I think we can really build off of and he’s done a nice job building from that experience of last year.”
Brosmer and Edwards have both had their moments to shine during the spring.
Brosmer is a true freshman who enrolled at UNH in January and participated in winter workouts and spring football.
“He comes from a really good high school program,” Santos said. “He was uber-productive. I think he’s maybe the most polished guy we have right now in terms of fundamentals and footwork. He’s a gym rat. He’s the first one at the meeting. He’s always asking the right questions. He wants to be really, really good. He’s just very young. For him, it’s not just understanding the concept and how to attack a defense, it’s understanding situational football, where he’s not there yet. I’m very encouraged with him, but again he needs to continue to grow and go forward.”
Edwards was slowed the first part of spring by an injury and came on strong when he got going.
“He’s emerged as someone we can win with and potentially be a starter,” Santos said. “He’s probably your most complete quarterback in terms of an athlete. Strong arm. Can do the zone read game stuff we’ve been able to do with Trevor and the athletic quarterbacks in the last handful of years and we’d ultimately like to do. He’s somebody we’re going to have to keep a close eye on going forward and we’ll see how he finishes the spring out.”
Edwards was effective last year running the scout team.
Niyomugabo starred at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook and Hedberg at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover.
“They’ve both done a really good job taking advantage of the limited reps they’ve had,” Santos said. “Those are two New Hampshire kids who understand what it means to be a New Hampshire kid in this program. It’s really important to them.”
Niyomugabo spent time at wide receiver last season.
“He’s the senior leader in the group so he understands the expectations of what it means to be a championship level quarterback,” Santos said. “He just hasn’t necessarily had that opportunity. I think he does some really, really good things. I think he has the strongest arm of the group. He’s a really good athlete. He just hasn’t quite put it together fully to grasp that starting role.”
Hedberg did a post-graduate year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
“He’s a kid who always does the right things,” Santos said. “He’s always in the right spot. He can tell you the offense back. He’s very cerebral.”
Fifteen springs ago, Santos was where his quarterbacks are now. He was finishing up his first spring camp and heading into the fall as a redshirt freshman.
He was third on the depth chart when the fall started and became the backup the week of the opener because of an injury.
Before the first half ended in the opener at defending FCS champion Delaware, Santos was in the game because of another injury.
A standout four-year career had begun.
“It’s a great example of why you always need to prepare like you’re the starter,” Santos said. “You’re always one snap away from being in there, from potentially being the guy. What you don’t want is regret. ‘Oh, I wish I would have tried to go harder. I wish would have been in my playbook.’ You can’t look at it as, ‘Coach is against me, I’m not playing. I have limited reps.’ You have to take it, ‘I want to prove them wrong. I am good enough to play.”
With the help of receiver David Ball and a very talented cast of teammates, the Wildcats started a streak of 14 straight winning seasons and NCAA FCS tournament appearances that season.
After playing five years in the Canadian Football League, Santos worked with wide receivers for three years at UNH and then spent the last three seasons at Columbia as quarterbacks coach.
He returned to UNH to lead the QBs and as associate head coach during the offseason.