Indiana State's quarterback group for 2019 is as experienced as any signal-callers have been in the recent history of the Sycamores' program.
Though Ryan Boyle, Jalil Kilpatrick and Kurtis Wilderman all saw their first action as Sycamores during the 2018 season, they have experience beyond that. Boyle was at Iowa for three seasons. Kilpatrick played two seasons of junior college football. Wilderman spent a year as a redshirt during ISU coach Curt Mallory's first season in 2017.
Inevitably, when the topic of quarterbacks comes up, talk turns to how strong "the room" is. The "room" being the euphemism coaches use to collectively describe each of the positional units.
Defining "the room" is a different exercise than the easy job of defining what ISU's quarterbacks — especially Boyle — did on the field in 2018. Boyle, who became ISU's starter by the third game of the season, developed into a multi-tool threat and was the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason all-conference selection at quarterback.
Boyle threw for 1,627 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games for the Sycamores. Boyle also averaged 5.4 yards per carry while racking up 610 rushing yards. His highlight was his five touchdown pass, two-rushing touchdown effort in an overtime win over South Dakota, but his season-long calling card was the steady hand in which he piloted ISU's offense.
Kilpatrick started the first two games, beating Quincy and keeping ISU competitive for most of the game against FBS Louisville. Injuries sidelined Kilpatrick's progress, but he was valuable in the role. Wilderman got spot duty, but looked good when given the chance.
So what happens in "the room" to put ISU quarterbacks on the path of success? For that, you turn first to someone who was just recently part of "the room" himself.
Aaron Young, two seasons removed from being an ISU reserve quarterback and one year after being a graduate assistant, has joined the staff full-time as quarterbacks coach. Young described "the room" as he sees it.
"Our room and the culture we have is a collective group and it's inclusive. We have a family atmospshere. Everyone is pulling for each other, which is what I wanted when I first came in. This is a cutt-throat business, but the glue is right in the quarterback. If we're solid internally? Our offense will be solid inside-out," Young said.
The only way "the room" can remain harmonious is if all quarterbacks are on the same page. That's not always easy when there's a clash in personalities or if a reserve quarterback is a bit too desirous of having the starting job.
Young notes that the tone of "the room" is set by Boyle and Kilpatrick, despite the fact that both take different approaches to leadership.
"They're two different leaders. Ryan is very internal with his emotions. He's upbeat whether things are going north or south. Jalil wears his heart on his sleeve. You can see it in his body language. They're both passionate about being leaders. They constantly talk to guys about doing their jobs," Young said.
Both Boyle and Kilpatrick agreed with Young's assessment.
"Every guy in that room has a mutual respect for the other which allows us to open up and listen to everyone. Although there's a starting quaterback and a second-string quarterback, we all know we have elements of things we bring to the game that helps the other. That maturity we bring makes it all better," Kilpatrick said. "We all have a common goal. It's a blessing to be a part of this team and lead it."
"It makes us a really competitive group. We know each other really well and we know how to much each other's buttons, but we know we're going to come in and work hard everyday," Boyle said.
Meanwhile, Wilderman said he's more of the quiet type.
"I don't like talking unless I have to. I just go out and do my job. I do what I need to do. Jalil and Ryan are both more vocal, but we take pieces from one another and incorporate it into our leadership," Wilderman said.
The quarterback is, of course, out-sized in its ability to influence the tone displayed by the entire team. There are other sources of leadership on the Sycamores, most notably, the fifth-year senior-laden offensive line and pockets of leadership on the defense. Some teams might try to tone down the role the quarterbacks have given that, but at least inside "the room"? It's made clear that quarterbacks can never shirk their role of being agenda-setters.
Young thinks the current group provides a blueprint that all good teams follow.
"You have to gain control of the locker room. That starts with keeping your mouth shut, gaining respect by production, gaining respect by exemplifying your work ethic to where people can see it, being out in front, even with your mouth shut. You don't have to be talking all of the time," Young explained.
"The first thing you have to do is gain trust or your teammates and coaches. Most importantly? Gain the respect of the defense and the defensive coaches just as equally as the offense and offensive coaches. I tell them to embrace the struggles of being a college quarterback. They have to embrace the problems that we have because they're the face of the program," Young added.
One of the struggles is dealing with expectations of the entire team. Observers near and far expect more from this ISU team from any in recent memory. The Sycamores, coming off of a breakout 7-4 season, were picked fourth in the MVFC poll.
Internally, that means embracing improving too. As far as Boyle is concerned? Mallory acknowledged how good he's been, but he wants more.
"He's been in the system for over a year now. He's comfortable and confident in what we're doing. I just want to see him take that next step," said Mallory, who was also quick to note Boyle's intangibles. "You see a confidence out there and when you talk to him? That's what you want. He gives you confidence in talking to him."
How does Boyle internalize Mallory's request?
"I think it's mastering the mundane. Everything from our feet to the arm to the eyes. Identifying man or zone. Once we do that? Everything flows effortlessly," said Boyle, who also addressed the expectations the team has. "We like it, but it's the same for us, the coaches, and the gameplan they have for us. Nothing is different. We're not going into practice thinking any differently. We're just doing our blue collar work."
As for Kilpatrick, at this time, Mallory ruled out any temptation to use the speedy senior in a Wildcat role or in a formation with Boyle also on the field. However, if called upon, Kilpatrick is ready to go.
"I believe the only way to play the game to the best of my ability is to be passionate about it. If I don't love it? I can't do it. I use that energy and apply it on the field," Kilpatrick said.
Wilderman is third-string. Behind him are two new quarterbacks. Redshirt senior Tommy Carr comes to ISU via two California colleges, the most recent being Allan Hancock College, where Carr threw for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Gunnar See, from Jefferson City, Mo., also joins the Sycamore program after two years at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. See threw for 1,456 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. He is a redshirt sophomore.