Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

July 8, 2014

Who’s next?

With Deaton gone, NSU’s QB search narrows


Johnny Deaton was on the mend. Kevin Pantastico was the new kid. Thor Long’s numbers failed to impress in 2013.

That’s how spring practice looked for Rob Robinson, who was in search of his starting quarterback after being hired as the team’s head coach in December. He had options but opted to keep the competition open for the starting spot into the fall.

Even Phoenix College transfer Kevin Pantastico knew he’d have to try and win the job in the fall.

“It’ll carry over into the fall,” said the 6-foot, 185-pound signal caller from Mesa, Ariz.

That will be the case when preparations for the 2014 season begins in August. But with a slightly different storyline: there will be no Deaton.

The record holder of several NSU passing marks opted to spend time with his ailing father and pursue his degree, instead of playing his senior season with the RiverHawks.

That meant that for the first time since 2010, NSU would have someone other than Deaton taking snaps as the starting quarterback.

And Pantastico was even looking forward to competing with Deaton and Long for the starting nod.

“They are very good people,” Pantastico said. “I like those guys a lot.”

Now, Pantastico will shift his focus to competing with Long and incoming-freshman Payton Rawlins of Seneca, Missouri.

“We were looking forward to a good competition in the fall between the three of them,” Robinson said of Deaton, Long and Pantastico. “Now it’s a two-man race. But something could always happen, though.”

Robinson quickly pointed out that Rawlins will be given a chance to grab the starting spot even as a freshman.

“I don’t want to rule Payton out because Kevin and Thor are also new to the program, too,” Robinson said. “The big thing is that neither one are used to running this offense. It’s a good thing that Division II set the season back a week, because we’ll need it.”

As far as what it’ll take to become the RiverHawks’ starting quarterback when they open the season at Pittsburg State on Sept. 6, Pantastico has a decent idea of what it’ll take.

“Leadership, obviously,” Pantastico said. “Every practice is like a game for me, and I’m going to go out there and give 100 percent every day. I’m just going to go out there and try to win the job.”

NSU quarterback file

Thor Long (6-1, 205, Jr.) — Passed for 1,334 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. However, he completed only 47.2 percent of his passes and threw nine interceptions.

Kevin Pantastico (6-0, 185, Soph.) — In nine games, Pantastico completed 178 of 299 passes for 2,124 yards and 12 touchdowns at Phoenix College in 2013. He did, however, throw 11 interceptions.

Payton Rawlins (6-1, 180, Fr.) — Led Seneca High School to the Class 3 championship game in Missouri. As a high school senior, he passed for 2,865 yards and 24 touchdowns.

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