Fresh start for Iannotti at SIU

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki football had Kory Faulkner calling the signals this time last year, and SIU’s current quarterback was down the depth chart at a different university.

Junior quarterback Mark Iannotti transferred to SIU from Eastern Michigan University in the spring ahead of spring practices.

Iannotti said the situation at EMU deteriorated quickly leading to his decision to transfer.

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“Halfway through the season at Eastern Michigan one of my best friends on the team, Demarius Reed, got shot and killed,” he said. “A couple weeks after that, our head coach got fired.”

Iannotti’s high school coach, Mark Stilling, contacted Iannotti after the loss of his teammate to find out how he was doing. Iannotti told Stilling he wasn’t handling the situation well.

Stilling told Iannotti SIU was looking to replace Kory Faulkner and AJ Hill after the two quarterback’s eligibility was up at SIU. Iannotti said he jumped at the opportunity to transfer.

“I just wanted a chance to come in and compete somewhere to kind of get away from everything up there,” Iannotti said. “The opportunity came up for me to transfer and I hopped on it and never looked back.”

Iannotti moved to SIU in time for the start of spring practices, his first chance to break into the roster. SIU quarterbacks coach Nick Hill said Iannotti grasped the Salukis’ system quickly.

“One of his best attributes I think is that he is a quick learner,” he said. “He really just engulfs himself in the playbook. He’s a knowledgeable kid with the game. I bounce ideas off of him.”

Iannotti was thrown into a three-way quarterback battle this spring with junior Matt Vincent and sophomore Ryan West. West was the only quarterback on the SIU roster with significant playing time in Division I at the time.

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Iannotti was impressive during the spring, leading all Saluki passers with 424 passing yards and 5 touchdowns.

Senior tight end MyCole Pruitt said Iannotti immediately fit in with the rest of the team.

“As soon as he came in you could just tell he was a stand up guy,” Pruitt said. “He was just ready to come in and work as hard as he could to earn that spot.”

Heading into preseason practices this fall, the quarterback race was narrowed to Iannotti and West after Vincent injured his hand during the offseason.

A few weeks before SIU’s first game against Taylor University Iannotti was officially named the starter by head football coach Dale Lennon.

Prior to the 2014 season, Iannotti attempted just one pass with the Eagles of Eastern Michigan. The lack of playing time before coming to SIU makes the junior quarterback an unknown player to the rest of the teams around the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“I love being the underdog and no one really having the expectations for me, so I can go out there and prove myself,” he said. “I like the pressure that it brings and I think I’m going to turn a lot of faces.”

Iannotti is no longer a completely unknown quarterback. In his first game as a Saluki against Taylor, the Schaumburg native was 11 for 16 with 181 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Iannotti said the lifestyle in southern Illinois fits him well and he feels more at home here than he did in Ypsilanti, Mich.

“I’m a big country boy, and the southern hospitality here is starting to kick in,” he said. “I like the barbeque and everything going on around here…everybody is a lot more friendly like the guys on the team and at the academic center. Everyone is just a lot more welcoming here.”

As for Iannotti’s former teammates at Eastern Michigan, he said they all think it’s about time he is a starting quarterback.

Iannotti will continue his young career with the Salukis on Saturday at 6 p.m. when SIU will play Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 256

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