Quarterback Zach Terrell keeps WMU rowing in the right direction

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Row the Boat.

That has been the mantra at Western Michigan since P.J. Fleck took over the program in December 2012.

SATURDAY ON ASN: Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

Guiding the boat, one that has navigated ever so smoothly thus far in 2016, is Zach Terrell. Of the 112 FBS quarterbacks that averaged at least 15 pass attempts per game heading into this week’s action he is the only one that has yet to throw an interception. That’s 174 attempts without an INT.

It has been that kind of season for the redshirt senior. He enters Saturday’s game against visiting Eastern Michigan, a MAC West Division showdown Saturday on ASN, fourth in the country in pass efficiency thanks in large part to 17 touchdown passes and nary a pick through seven games.

“For us, the No. 1 thing in our program is the ball,” Terrell said of his lack of interceptions. “We do things all day in practice and we are constantly getting critiqued on how we handle the ball. Everything works together and me not having a turnover is a direct reflection of everybody else doing their details. It starts with the offensive line, the receivers in their route running and running backs blocking. I can’t take credit because everybody is responsible for taking care of the ball.”

The Broncos (7-0, 3-0 MAC) are No. 20 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Amway Coaches polls and until a couple of weeks ago had never been ranked in a major poll. They are seeking to go 8-0 for the first time since 1941. WMU’s nine-game win streak is tied with Washington for the second-longest active streak in FBS and behind Alabama (19).

Western Michigan’s ascension into the national conversation is rather remarkable when considering the program slogged through a 1-11 season in 2013, Fleck’s first in Kalamazoo. Fortunes quickly turned as witnessed by a pair of 8-5 showings the past two years. Last season was capped by the Broncos’ first-ever bowl win, a 45-31 decision over Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl.

“When we look back, the 1-11 and everything we have been through has been an absolute blessing,” said Terrell, who started six games that season as a redshirt freshman. “We would not be where we are today if it were not for our past. We learned a lot and we will continue to apply the lessons we have learned in the present and the future. That is what Row the Boat is all about.”

Terrell has been a champion oarsman off the field. His work in the classroom and in the community resulted in being named to the All-State Good Works Team as well as a nominee for the Wuerffel Trophy.

A graduate student working his way to an MBA, Terrell led a group of 20 WMU students-athletes on a mission to the Dominican Republic last spring break. His father, Mark, is the CEO of a company that provides help for troubled youths in the D.R. Through that connection Terrell and his group were able to help in many ways.

“It really helped build me spiritually and also as a leader,” he said of an experience that, among other things, included helping reconstruct a bridge and building a basketball court. “It was a phenomenal opportunity and something that all the people involved will remember forever. It was a lot of fun and we are working on getting a trip set up again for next year.”

It is no wonder Terrell has been recognized for his diligence away from the gridiron and it is recognition the Fort Wayne, Ind. native does not take lightly.

“Sometimes that means more to me than the football accolades,” said Terrell, whose 10,168 passing yards and 80 touchdowns through the air rank third all-time at WMU. “What I can do to serve and give is what this program is about as well as what kind of a man I can develop into. How I can help others is really important to me. It is a blessing to have a scholarship to Western Michigan University and play football, the game I love. Why not continue to give back because of all the things I have been given?”

It is a question Terrell, who popped the question this summer, answers every day. As far as the young lady in his life, he and former cheerleading team captain, Maggie Craig, will be wed next summer.

“We fit that stereotypical kind of thing with the quarterback and the cheer captain,” he said laughing.

There was not much cheering during the Broncos’ rough ride three years ago and certainly there had been little joy surrounding an Eastern Michigan (5-2, 2-1 MAC) program that totaled six wins the past four seasons, including a 1-11 showing in 2015. The Eagles have four more wins than all of last season, the biggest turnaround in FBS.

“They have been doing some amazing things and it has been fun to watch them on film because they get after it,” said Terrell of the Eagles. “They have to be very excited about everything that is going on with their program and we can relate. A lot of people were calling us the doormat when we went 1-11 and we turned things around the next year, and now look at them. It is going to be a tough task for us Saturday.”

One thing is for sure: Terrell and the Broncos will keep rowing.


Above: Zach Terrell ranks third in Western Michigan with 10,168 yards and 80 touchdowns passing. (Courtesy Western Michigan Athletics)
Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger

Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.