Will McElvain set to return from COVID-19 absence

Northern Iowa quarterback Will McElvain fires a pass during the Panthers’ 21-0 victory over Youngstown State Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio.

CEDAR FALLS – The good news out of Northern Iowa football camp Monday is starting quarterback Will McElvain is out of COVID-19 quarantine and expected to return to action this week.

The bad news is after playing Saturday, the Panthers (3-3) have just four days to prepare to play South Dakota (1-3) Friday in the Dakota Dome in Vermillion, S.D. The Coyotes have not played since March 20 after having their game with North Dakota State Saturday cancelled because of a positive test within the Bison program.

But the return of McElvain should give the Panthers a boost.

UNI head coach Mark Farley says McElvain has to progress through several resocialization protocols throughout the week with each passing day the sophomore being allowed to do more physical activity.

“You have to go through a certain process of rebuilding your conditioning,” Farley said. “I think he has to go through 25%, 50%, 75% activity and then ramp up to full speed. He will start that process today.”

Farley anticipates McElvain will be under center for the Panthers against the Coyotes, but said it is not as simple as it sounds.

“The hard thing about it and being real frank about it,” Farley continued. “What I have found by going through it multiple times now is you think you can walk back out there and play. There is a conditioning factor and awareness factor. It is like starting over.

“When you are in quarantine you are not allowed to have anything to do with the team, even exercise and activity. You take two weeks off and things change. It takes a while to get that rhythm back and get your body to react.”

With all that said Farley added, “In this conversation Will is the quarterback unless something shows up that I’m not aware or something rears its head that we have to be conscious about. I will project that Will will be the starter this Friday if I had to answer the question today.”

In the four games prior to missing the last two, McElvain completed 58 of 114 passes for 745 yards.

While encouraged with the return of his starting quarterback, Farley was equally elated about the growth and potential Justin Fomby showed in his two starts for UNI.

Fomby completed 33 of 52 passes for 433 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“It is huge,” Farley said of the two games of experience Fomby got. “What this does is creates opportunities and based off your performance will it create other opportunities? What it also does is makes us aware of what needs to be improved upon.

“But there are a lot of things that show up with Justin that say, ‘wow, he is further along than I anticipated he was.’ We really got to find out a lot about Justin and I think Justin got to find out a lot about Justin. Now we can expedite his growth having the knowledge we have these two games.”

THAT GUY ON THE SIDELINES LOOKS FAMILIAR: While he has been helping in the booth most of the season, Saturday for the first time former UNI coach Terry Allen was seen patrolling the sidelines helping the Panther coaching staff.

Two events led to Farley asking Allen to join the staff on a part-time basis for the spring season.

The first was the departure of offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey to the Green Bay Packers before the start of the season and then the birth of a child for offensive assistant Nick Danielson and his wife, the week of the Youngstown State game. After those two events Farley said he reached out to Allen, whose son Alex is a tight end for UNI, to see if he’d be interested in helping the Panthers.

“I didn’t want to hire anybody, but I wanted to get somebody who could come in here that knew our program. That this program was important too and more so it was bringing in a person who really understood UNI football. Yet, be somebody who has been watching football intently. He is with the Big 12 Conference officials during their season so he is very in tuned with what is going on in football today.

“I thought what a great name and his son is on the team. Let’s bring him up as analytical guy, put him in analytics and allow him to be another set of eyes for us. That is what he is doing.”

Allen has been in the coaching booth during several games this year for UNI, but with the smallness of Western Illinois’ coaching box, he was on the sidelines for the first time Saturday.

In eight seasons as UNI’s head coach, Allen, the former Panther quarterback, compiled a 75-26 mark, including 40-7 in Gateway Conference play. He lead UNI to seven playoff appearances, including the 1992 and 1996 I-AA semifinals.