By Tim Gayle
MONTGOMERY – When Tyler Wiegers was a four-star recruit as a quarterback at Detroit Country Day High in Lake Orion, Mich., he entertained offers from several Midwest schools, including Eastern Michigan.
“Back then, nobody wanted to go there,” he recalled, “but Coach (Chris) Creighton did a great job turning it around.” Four years later, Wiegers was a senior at the University of Iowa, graduating with a degree in human physiology and looking for a place to continue his football career. This time, thanks to Creighton and his coaching staff, the Eagles’ football program looked a lot different.
“Eastern Michigan was the first school to reach out to me,” he said. “Coach (Aaron) Keen (quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator) called me right away. I went for a visit one Saturday when I had some free time and it looked like a good fit. Being close to home was a bonus but I was kind of looking to stay in the Midwest, a MAC school, stuff like that.”
By then, Creighton had worked a little magic, taking the Eagles to a bowl game in 2016 and winning more games in two years (12) than three coaches had in the previous six years combined.
“Seeing the end result of all that is really cool,” Wiegers said. “It’s cool to be a part of it this year.”
Wiegers stepped into a role that needed his leadership as much as his ability. Last year’s 12-game starter, Brogan Roback, was the Eagles’ career leader in touchdown passes (57) and total offense (8,876) and Creighton and Keen needed a dependable hand to keep the ship headed in the right direction.
Redshirt sophomore Isaac Stiebeling had played in a couple of games in 2017 and Mike Glass was a transfer from Southwestern College who would be eligible in 2018 after sitting out 2017 to comply with transfer rules. Wiegers, as a graduate transfer, could contribute immediately if he could win over his new teammates.
“I expected it to be tougher to come in and win over the locker room,” he admitted. “When I came in, right away, everybody was super receptive and open. They all brought me in as part of the family right away. There were a few guys I knew on the team from high school but everybody on the team made it easy.”
After a season opening win over Monmouth, the Eagles shocked Purdue in West Lafayette as Wiegers threw for 313 yards – the most since Roback threw for 328 in the 2016 bowl game – and Chad Ryland drilled a 24-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-19 win over the Boilermakers to give Wiegers his biggest collegiate highlight.
“It’s up there,” he said. “Any time you get a last-second win, having to come together with defensive stops and the offense coming up in clutch situations, it was crazy, a lot of fun. Especially going back to a Big 10 place and getting a win there.”
Wiegers would have hoped to have a highlight reel long before that September day, but it never worked out at Iowa as he had hoped. In 2015, he was the backup to C.J. Beathard, now with the 49ers, in a 12-2 season that ended in the Rose Bowl, but in 2016 he lost the backup job to Nate Stanley and in 2017 he lost a battle for the starting job to Stanley. In four years, he had appeared in eight games, completing 4 of 6 passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Now, wearing a different uniform in a different conference, he would get the chance to show his ability.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “That’s what you look for as a competitor, a chance to get out on the field and play on Saturdays. Luckily, I’ve been able to do that here. The coaches have given me an opportunity so it’s been a ton of fun and everything I wanted it to be.”
And while Wiegers wasn’t part of the 2016 squad that earned a trip to the Bahamas Bowl, he is part of the history-making 2018 squad that will be the first senior class in school history to make two bowl appearances when they face Georgia Southern on Saturday in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Cramton Bowl.
“Any time you can prolong your career, it’s awesome,” he said. “College football, there’s nothing like it. The camaraderie with the team, getting another month with the guys, that’s what we wanted.”
Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said the Eastern Michigan offense is a reflection of its quarterback.
“(Wiegers) is a really good operator,” Lunsford said. “I think he runs that offense, he puts them in good plays and that makes them very efficient on offense. When they bring (Glass) in, that guy has done a really good job of scoring touchdowns. I think they’re two guys that you definitely have to account for.”
Saturday’s game with Georgia Southern could give the Michigan native, overlooked or underappreciated in his four years at Iowa, a shot at redemption on a national stage but Wiegers isn’t thinking about his former team or any personal goals in his final game. He just wants to send his new teammates out as winners.
“I really haven’t thought about that much,” he said. “Any time you’re out there on that field with your teammates, you’re just trying to do what you can to win, so the whole ESPN, national audience, I don’t think anybody is thinking anything about that. We’re just focused on our assignment and what we’ve got to do to help each other out and win this game.”