QB confident for new season
Mihael Bauer | sports editor
On the roster, his name might be Anthony. But on the field, players and coaches alike refer to him simply as “Tony.”
It is a nickname that the Pittsburg State quarterback has had with him since his high school days. Before coming to PSU Anthony Abenoja, junior in physical education, played under coach Steve Rampy, who is now offensive coordinator for PSU, at Blue Valley High School. Even Rampy doesn’t quite know why it has stuck around.
“It’s just a nickname that I’ve had,” Abenoja said. “But on paper I like to be called ‘Anthony Abenoja’.”
Then why ‘Tony’?
“I guess coach Rampy thought that ‘Tony’ was easier to shout than ‘Anthony’,” Abenoja said. “It kind of just stuck.”
Well, Tony or Anthony, one thing is certain: The junior from Overland Park is set for his second year as the starting quarterback for the Pitt State Gorillas after what he says was a promising spring this past year.
“This off-season was great,” Abenoja said. “We were really competitive against each other and after that, I felt really good coming into the fall. We just got to keep that going and get more physical.”
Abenoja returns as starting QB after spending his first season in the same position. Last year as a sophomore, Abenoja started all 10 games under center for the Gorillas. He completed 169 of 280 passes for a total of 2,330 yards and 15 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
It did not take Abenoja long to find his rhythm as a starter. In the first game of the 2012 season, Abenoja broke the Pitt State single-game record with 26 pass completions and 378 passing yards against Northeastern State. His performance earned him MIAA offensive player of the week.
The Gorillas may open this season against the same opponent, but as far as Abenoja is concerned, last year is last year.
“Every team every year is different,” Abenoja said. “Just because a record was set last year doesn’t always mean anything now. It’s a different season and a different team and we just have to be ready to play.”
Abenoja ranks first in all-time highest season passing yards per game with a record of 233.0. His 2,330 yards in 2012 places him third in all-time program history.
At this time last year the Gorillas were the defending national champions. Abenoja was no stranger to the Gorillas, but he was handed the keys to a Pitt State offense that was previously commanded by four-year veteran Zac Dickey.
“That guy was a warrior,” Abenoja said. “He taught me how to lead a team and how to act.”
Abenoja responded to Dickey’s legacy by earning honorable mention in All-MIAA honors at the end of last season. Now with even more experience and proven progress, Tim Beck, head football coach, believes there is even more to come from the quarterback.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Beck said. “The experience he got last year and maturity level and getting older and that confidence under his belt has really helped and he’s more comfortable.”
Beck says one of the keys for Abenoja this season is to not get too pressured from having to do everything on the field.
“He’s got to understand that he doesn’t always have to force things and doesn’t have to make things happen and not trying to do too much,” Beck said.
One lesson Abenoja has had to learn since becoming the starting QB is to be a team player while achieving independent goals.
“I’ve always tried to be a team guy but here in college it’s more independent,” Abenoja said. “On your own, you really got to get the guys and bring them together.”
When trying to achieve his goals, Abenoja says he just thinks back to those who doubted him, to push himself harder.
“My biggest motivator … probably everyone who told me I couldn’t do it,” Abenoja said.
Abenoja says he plans to go into teaching after college. He hopes that he will be able to not only teach but coach as well. “Anything having to do with football would be great.”