Quarterback transfer says improvement is top priority

Thursday, March 7, 2002

Jack Tomco knows all about Jeromy McDowell's record-setting freshman season as Southeast Missouri State University's quarterback last year.

And Tomco knows that beating McDowell for the starting position won't be easy.

But Tomco, a junior college transfer, said Wednesday that overthrowing McDowell isn't his top priority during Southeast's first week of spring workouts.

"I just try to come out and compete every day and try to get better," Tomco said. "Everybody wants to start, but sometimes that doesn't work out. I just want to do the best I can and make the team better."

Southeast's coaching staff has no doubt Tomco will make the Indians better. Coach Tim Billings and offensive coordinator Russ Martin, who works most closely with the quarterbacks, both consider the former standout at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College a big addition. They also concede that next season's starter is not certain, even though McDowell -- who will miss spring practice after undergoing knee and shoulder surgery -- passed for a Southeast freshman-record 2,051 yards last year.

"He didn't come here to be a backup," Billings said. "He'll compete for the job."

Said Martin, "Jack has a cannon for an arm. He'll get every opportunity, and I think he and Jeromy will push each other and make each other better. And Jeff East is also in the mix. He's very athletic and can do some things the others can't.

"You need to have more than one good quarterback. We saw that last year when Jeromy got banged up at times. We feel really good about our situation."

East is a redshirt freshman.

A 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, Tomco passed for more than 3,500 yards in two seasons at Scottsdale CC, including 2,100 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

When it came time to pick a college, Tomco's familiarity with and respect for Martin ultimately allowed the Indians to beat Division I-A programs, including San Jose State.

Tomco's brother played for Martin when Martin was the head coach at Black Hills (S.D.) State in the late 1990s. And Tomco, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, attended several summer camps in his home area where Martin worked.

"I knew coach Martin from those camps in Alaska and I really wanted him to be my coach," Tomco said.

Added a laughing Martin of those summer camp days, "The first year I saw him he was going to be a freshman. He was a tall, gangly kid and I would have never thought he'd be a quarterback. But the next year when I saw him, it was amazing how far he'd come."

Asked to describe his playing style, Tomco, who enrolled at Southeast in January, said, "I can sling the ball and I like to think I'm a real good competitor. I'm not going to beat you with my feet, but I think I can make some things happen to buy time."

Pressed again about the chances of being the Indians' starter, Tomco continued to maintain a team-first attitude that seems totally genuine.

"You want to start, but you have to be ready to play, whether you're first string, second string or third string," he said. "Individual stuff is great, but it's more fun to be on a winning team.

"When coach Billings recruited me, he said we're going to win, we're going to get it done. I feel this is a program on the rise and I want to be a part of it."

mmishow@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 132

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