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The Josh Straughan story: A loveable underdog narrative

SIU+senior+quarterback+Josh+Straughan+runs+with+the+ball+during+the+Salukis%27+45-39+loss+to+South+Dakota+State+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+8%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Jacob+Wiegand+%7C+%40JacobWiegand_DE%29
SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan runs with the ball during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan runs with the ball during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

SIU senior quarterback Josh Straughan runs with the ball during the Salukis' 45-39 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Josh Straughan has become adept at recalling his journey to SIU, having voiced the long, unlikely story to reporters, teammates and general inquirers the past few months.

“Oh, it’s been a lot,” Straughan said, “too many to count.”

For those who haven’t been keeping score at home, the story goes as follows: Straughan lit the Southeast 1B scene ablaze while quarterbacking the Colton Wildcats; he had a similar impact in three years at Stillman College, an NCAA Division II program in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and he’s continued to light it up at SIU, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision school in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

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In just five games at SIU, Straughan has thrown for 1,608 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his 321.6 yards per game average is sixth in the nation among FCS quarterbacks. The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer, working toward a master’s degree in kinesiology, has also earned two MVFC Newcomer of the Week honors.

The highlights of the Straughan story paint a loveable underdog narrative, fit for a small-town 30-for-30 film. The play-by-play from those close to him reveals why only those on the outside looking in are taken aback by the thought of Straughan performing so well at this level.

SIU’s Director of Broadcast Operations Mike Reis congratulates newly-crowned starting quarterback Josh Straughan alongside senior middle linebacker Chase Allen on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

SIU’s Director of Broadcast Operations Mike Reis congratulates newly-crowned starting quarterback Josh Straughan alongside senior middle linebacker Chase Allen on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

There’s the coaching staff at Colton, which allowed Straughan to throw the ball often enough to make a quarterback in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense jealous. In four years with the Wildcats, Straughan accounted for more than 12,000 total yards and 141 touchdowns, and was all-state his senior year.

Former assistant coach Seth Paine “had no doubt” that Straughan would be a Division I player because of “the intangibles he brought as far as understanding the game and his leadership qualities. He was very mature for his years. The game seemed to move slow for him at times, which obviously is a huge asset.”

Then there’s Teddy Keaton, the former Stillman coach who found Straughan through a recruiting service, overlooked the fact he played eight-man football and “fell in love” with him once he got the Colton stud to Alabama for a visit.

“My first thought was, when I saw him sling the football, that he was probably a Division I football player, no less than a lower-level Division I football player,” said Keaton, now an assistant at Alabama’s Miles College after Stillman’s football program folded. “With all those schools on the West Coast that could probably use a quarterback who could throw like he does, I’m thinking I don’t have a shot or a chance to get him.”

But he did. Straughan was as good as advertised, too, throwing for 5,470 yards and 53 touchdowns in three seasons, earning him 2014 all-conference and 2015 preseason All-American honors.

“He’s got the type of swag that he makes the world stop and watch him,” Keaton said. “It’s no surprise how good he’s doing at the school he’s at. … I call him Peyton Manning. He was my Peyton Manning. He has a game plan, you have a game plan. You put it together and he goes out and executes it to the fullest.”

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan launches a pass during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan launches a pass during SIU’s fall football scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

There’s also SIU coach Nick Hill, who, after examining Straughan’s Stillman film, was impressed with the quarterback’s accuracy and athleticism, to the point he had this to say about him on signing day: “He played eight-man football in the state of Washington or he would not be here right now if he’s playing anywhere that gets heavily recruited.”

Game film and phone conversations weren’t enough to offer a scholarship though. Hill had to get Straughan to Carbondale, and see if his personality was as mature as his game.

“He came here and after the first night of bowling and dinner, coach [Ashton] Aikens came up and he was like, ‘I feel like I’m talking to a (graduate assistant) or an assistant coach when I’m talking to that kid,'” Hill recalled after Straughan officially signed. “He fits it all.”

There’s adversity in this story too. Straughan needed minor labrum surgery in April 2015, so he redshirted his senior season at Stillman, then had his scholarship offer from Austin Peay State pulled on Christmas Eve when the coaches were fired and the new regime took over.

MORE: SIU football making small improvements with new defense

Straughan’s Christmas gift? A Facebook message reply from Hill, one of numerous coaches to receive Straughan’s film the night before (he immediately sent out dozens of messages to coaches after hearing the news from APSU). Straughan was on SIU’s campus watching film by January.

Lastly, there’s Straughan himself, who, if he had his way, would have skipped the pit stops and went straight from the eight-man level to the top of the college football ranks.

“To me, I felt like I was always good enough to do it,” he said. “I thought I should have went to a Football Bowl Subdivision school out of high school. Maybe I wasn’t ready, I don’t know. Everyone’s journey is different. I definitely thought I was capable, for sure.”

And now, the rest of the world agrees with him.

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(c)2016 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

Visit the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) at www.dnews.com

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