Haley tries to pin down QB position

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Many football coaches would be mighty worried if their likely starting quarterback has attempted just 15 passes in his college career.

Don't count Southeast Missouri State's Tim Billings among that group, although Billings admits he would not be human if he didn't have at least a few concerns.

But Billings professes to have plenty of confidence in Mike Haley, who is receiving the bulk of the work during spring practice, as the position for the 2005 season appears to be his for the taking.

"I feel good about the quarterback position," said Billings, whose Redhawks are in their second week of spring workouts, which will end with their annual intrasquad game on April 30.

Despite the fact Southeast went just 3-8 last year, Andrew Goodenough led the Ohio Valley Conference in passing yards per game. He threw for 2,820 yards -- the second-highest single-season total in school history -- while completing 59.7 percent of his attempts in his senior season.

With Goodenough taking virtually all of the snaps behind center, his backup -- Haley -- completed five of 15 for 64 yards in basically mop-up duty as a junior.

Still, Billings said he saw enough of the 6-foot-6, 225-pound former junior college transfer during practice to believe he has what it takes to excel on the Division I-AA level.

"Mike has a lot of ability, he's a really good athlete, and he was a great junior college quarterback," Billings said. "He knows the offense and we have a lot of confidence in him.

"Sure, the inexperience at this level always concerns you a little bit. But he's been around the system, he knows what we're doing. He still has a lot to learn, but he's looked good so far and we're excited about him."

Haley, a native of Kingwood, Texas, transferred to Southeast after two seasons at Santa Monica (Calif.) Community College. He appreciates Billings' confidence in him, and he says he's ready to fill the all-important position.

"It's exciting," Haley said. "I think I'm ready to be the starting quarterback."

Haley, who certainly does not seem to lack confidence, agrees with Billings that being around Southeast's wide-open type of offensive system for a while now has benefited him greatly.

"Oh yeah, I've always had confidence, even when I wasn't playing," Haley said. "I think I know the system pretty good, and getting so many reps now, I feel a lot more comfortable than I ever have."

Haley said it was somewhat frustrating not getting much of a chance to show what he could do last year, but he realized that it's all part of the process.

"It's frustrating, when you don't get to play," he said. "But that was my role last year, and now my role is as the starter."

Haley said his strengths are his arm and being able to make plays on the run.

"I'm not the fastest guy," he said, "but I feel like I can make plays."

While Billings rates Haley as the solid favorite to be Southeast's starting quarterback, he also thinks Haley will receive competition in the fall from junior college transfer Kevin Ballatore.

Ballatore was second nationally in passing yardage (3,029) and touchdowns (35) last season at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Community College.

One of five mid-semester junior college transfers enrolled in school, Ballatore is being limited to non-contact work during spring drills as he continues to recover from knee surgery, but he should be totally healthy when fall practice begins in August.

"Kevin will do everything but contact, so he'll be able to learn our system, and he'll be ready for the fall," Billings said. "He's a great addition to the team. I think he and Mike are both really talented, and a big thing will be how they lead the team."

Haley doesn't see that as a problem for him, as he claims to be ready to lead the Redhawks to a bounce-back season after last year's disappointing campaign.

"Last year, being the first year for our team in this offense, it should be a lot smoother now," he said. "Hopefully we can improve on being 3-8 and win the conference championship."

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