HOUGHTON - In his sophomore season and second year starting under center, Michigan Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett threw for a school-record 2,596 yards, with a superb 28 touchdowns against just four interceptions, all on a tidy 64 percent completion rate while leading the Huskies to a share of their second-ever Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
So the question facing Scarlett this spring is obvious - what can he possibly improve from here?
"Well, there are always things you can improve on," Michigan Tech football coach Tom Kearly said. "More experience with the timing, working on getting the ball out, those type of things. But the area we are really pushing him towards is taking some steps forward on the leadership side of things."
Michigan Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett pulls the ball down for a rushing attempt during a 2012 home game against Northwood. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
With four senior wide receivers last season, a senior all-GLIAC tight end and a pair of senior running backs, Scarlett enjoyed an ultra-experienced set of skilled playmakers that converted to an outstanding 37.7 points per game mark.
He won't have that luxury this season.
Of the eight returning wide receivers, five maintain freshman eligibility and three qualify as sophomores.
None have ever caught a pass in a Huskies uniform.
"Last year he had a bunch of older guys he could rely on both in terms of leadership and experience," Kearly said. "This year guys will be looking to him, not the other way around. There are going to be problems like a receiver busting a route, and he will have to deal with that. How he handles that stuff is going to be important."
Of the 200 completed passes last season, only five were caught among returning players, and none of those came from a wide receiver or tight end.
Despite entering his third year as a starter, Scarlett is working with a fresh slate in many ways, and to duplicate last year's success, the importance of building chemistry through the spring cannot be underestimated Kearly said.
"It has been tough (with the weather) cancelling some practices," Kearly said. "We haven't been able to work with the throwers and catchers as much as we wanted. But there is no question that this is the time you can build some of that. Just getting reps for these guys with the ones and twos is important."
Making the transition easier to an entirely new group of receivers will be Scarlett's innate accuracy.
Kearly calls him the most accurate quarterback he has ever coached and Scarlett set a school record with a 66 percent completion mark his freshman season.
"He just throws a really catchable ball," Kearly said. "He makes it easy for receivers, he puts it in a spot you can go and get it."
In a bit of unusual circumstances this year, the Huskies will enter the fall with only two quarterbacks on the roster. Backing up Scarlett will be sophomore Isaiah Hackney, while former freshman quarterback Brandon Cowie has begun making the transition to wide receiver this spring for the Huskies to better utilize his athleticism.
The decision to move Cowie is a reflection of Tech's faith in Hackney if he were ever pressed into emergency duty.
"It really is kind of the best compliment you can pay to a backup 'Q'," Kearly said of entering the fall with just two quarterbacks. "We have total faith in him. He still has a way to go picking up the speed of the game and recognizing certain things - all the stuff young quarterbacks need to learn - but if something were to happen to Scarlett we are entirely comfortable turning it over to Isaiah."
Editor's note: This quarterback feature is the fifth in an eight-part series breaking down the Michigan Tech football team position by position leading to Saturday's annual spring game at Sherman Field. Last week the defensive line, linebackers, secondary and special teams were broken down, with running backs, receivers and the offensive line to come this week.