By ANDY WOLF
Rob Keys has coached 65 games in six seasons as the head football coach at the University of Findlay.
Each one has been started by a transfer quarterback.
Having a capable signal-caller is a large reason why the Oilers are 38-27 under Keys and routinely put out a potent offense.
“It means it’s really hard to find good quarterbacks out of high school because of scholarship offers at the Division I level,” Keys said. “The good thing about the Division I level at quarterback, there’s only one that plays very often or even two. There’s a lot of No. 3 quarterbacks in this country that aren’t playing at the (Bowl Championship Series) level that when they transfer here, they’re better than some of the kids we can recruit out of high school. It’s very difficult.”
Keys has recruited his share of high school quarterbacks.
Wherever they come from, he’s going to play the best player.
Right now that guy is Rhys Gervais.
Since transferring from Division I Western Illinois, Gervais owns nearly every UF passing record, single-season or career.
His backup is also a Division I transfer from Pittsburgh in Adam Bertke.
But while Bertke is much closer to his home of Maria Stein, where he led Marion Local to three state championships, Gervais is even farther from Puyallup, Washington.
Playing Division I wasn’t of huge importance, but ultimately he wanted to go where he was wanted.
Gervais turned down late offers from Montana, Eastern Washington, Idaho State and Portland State to take the first Division I opportunity he had in Western Illinois.
He redshirted immediately as Cincinnati transfer Trenton Norvell started all 12 games as a freshman.
Gervais still served at backup but learned he wasn’t going to get to burn his redshirt.
Norvell kept the starting job the following year and toward the end of the season Gervais decided to move on.
“Because if I’m this far away from home I kind of just want to play football,” Gervais said. “Not that I don’t consider myself an NFL guy, I kind of just wanted to play.”
He sent his film to about 40 schools, Findlay included.
“It kind of came back to the thing, you go where you’re wanted,” Gervais said. “I get a call within a couple hours of me setting up my compliance form from some coach named Rob Keys. He was really excited to get me out here.”
Gervais said Keys beat Division II powers Grand Valley State and Northwest Missouri State to the punch.
He was not only desired but the fit was perfect with UF running the same offense as WIU.
Twenty-two starts later, he’s the only UF quarterback with 3,000-plus yards, 60 touchdowns and 400-plus completions.
He has two years of eligibility left, but Keys said Bertke has closed the gap on him substantially.
Keys told Bertke he had every opportunity to beat him out.
While Gervais kept the job, Bertke did appear in five games, attempting 17 passes.
Like Gervais, Bertke wanted to go where he was wanted.
He was wanted at Pitt, too, committing before his senior season at Marion Local.
After spending his entire life in a town of roughly 2,000, his transition to the eponymous school in a town nearly 200-times that size came with some culture shock.
“It was definitely overwhelming at times,” Bertke said of the change. “It was Division VI (high school) football. I wasn’t really used to the speed of the guys and the size of the guys and the complexity of the playbook.”
He sat third on the depth chart during his redshirt season and wasn’t moving up in his first year of eligibility.
“I was doing everything I could to be on the playing field working hard and stuff,” Bertke said. “It just didn’t work out in the end.”
Ultimately, the same case can be said for the previous three transfers.
Clay Belton began his collegiate career at Miami (Ohio), transfered to Maryland a year later before finally finding a good fit in Findlay.
He was already on the roster when Keys took the job.
His big arm and ability to throw the ball downfield earned him the starting spot for two seasons.
Belton set the UF single-season passing mark in his senior season (2,329 yards) only to have it broken two years later by Verlon Reed.
“(Belton’s) success really catapulted the process of transfer quarterbacks,” Keys said. “He started the effect of transfer guys. … Guys saw how successful he was and said ‘Hey, if I can transfer then that’s possibly a good place for me.”
The Oilers, who hadn’t had consecutive winning seasons since 2003-04, went 6-5 and 7-3 with Belton starting the first two seasons of the Keys era.
Reed, originally a wide receiver at Ohio State, came in as Belton was going out.
Unlike most schools, Keys and his staff first recruited Reed at Marion-Franklin to be a quarterback.
Along with Reed’s transfer came some stirring in the fan base.
“We’re in Ohio. Ohio State is king,” Keys said. “That’s great but there was a lot more hype and publicity coming out when (Verlon) transferred as opposed to some of the other guys.”
The offense got tweaked to favor Reed’s athleticism, allowing him to rush for 1,006 yards in two seasons.
The four starts he missed in 2013 with a thumb injury were filled in by Devonate Payne, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Eastern Michigan.
Payne closed UF’s year with a 4-0 mark and didn’t commit a turnover.
Belton and Reed’s success earned each of them NFL tryouts with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, respectively, with Reed working as a wideout.
While neither lasted, Reed is currently starting for the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles in the Indoor Football League.
“Our last two starting quarterbacks signed NFL contracts,” Keys said. “I think we have the ability maybe to put the third one (Gervais) in that same spot a couple years from now. It’s really fortunate to have the quarterbacks we have.
“The bottom line with quarterback play, their job is very simple: their job is to win games. If they have to throw the ball 40 times or run the ball 50 times, they’re going to do whatever is necessary to get that W.”
Football: Gervais latest in line of UF transfer quarterbacks
By ANDY WOLF