Leading the top passing offense in D3 football wasn’t supposed to be in the cards for Nolan Baumhover. Not this year at least.
The BR-126 Loras quarterback was to start his freshman season like most do, as a backup, taking reps in practice during the week and holding a clipboard on Saturdays. At some point, down the road, Baumhover would get his chance to shine.
Who knew that time would come Week 1? An injury to starting quarterback Bob Kelly forced Baumhover into action opening day against BR-136 Elmhurst. The Duhawks lost the game 31-17, but in his first taste of college action, Baumhover was about as good as one could expect given the circumstances, completing 14-of-32 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Fast-forward six weeks later. Baumhover is in the driver’s seat of an offense that averages 409.6 passing yards per game. The Loras Duhawks own a 4-3 record heading into Saturday’s game vs. BR 68 Dubuque, a record that includes the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding. Baumhover has completed 63.75 percent of his passes for 1,820 yards and 22 touchdowns in total, but a big chunk of those stats have come in the last three games. During that time, he’s amassed 1,073 of his yards and 16 of his touchdowns. He threw six touchdowns against BR 137 Buena Vista on Oct. 10, and followed that up with an eight-touchdown performance in a 55-48 victory over BR 51 Central on Oct. 17.
Baumhover has seemingly found a rhythm with his offense, but he was quick to give the credit to his teammates.
“It’s not just me doing this whole job,” Baumhover said. “Without my linemen, I would be nothing. Without my receivers catching balls, I’d still be nothing. You’ve got to give them a pat on the back for everything they do. Everyone was in sync, we were a well-oiled machine, we were working together.”
After that first game — against Elmhurst — Baumhover fought for time under center with fellow backup Nik Schulte. A senior, Schulte has also had an impressive season, throwing for 1,004 yards and eight touchdowns, including 588 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-52 victory over BR-129 Augustana on Sept. 19. But after sharing time against BR-77 Coe the following week, Baumhover got the start against Buena Vista. Then he threw 6 TDs and it’s been his show ever since.
Loras head coach Steve Helminiak said while all three of his quarterbacks have produced this season, the offense has found a rhythm under Baumhover in the team’s no-huddle offense.
“Nolan – especially as a freshman – has made remarkable strides in understanding our offense and understanding defenses, being able to make quick decisions and getting rid of the football,” Helminiak said. “Part of that position is being a really good decision-maker, and not just a good decision-maker, you have to make it in rapid fashion. He’s done a good job with that and it’s been remarkable.”
In the Duhawks offense, the quarterback is the distributor, getting the ball out quick and letting his receivers make the plays.
“(Offensive coordinator Jake Olsen) says ‘You’re the point guard, you’ve got to get the ball to your players,'” Baumhover said. “He’s always saying that.”
It wasn’t so easy at the start for Baumhover, especially in his first action against Elmhurst.
“When people say (college football is) a lot faster than high school, it’s 100 percent true,” Baumhover said. “It’s just a huge difference from high school to college. I thought I was ready for it – I kind of was, but kind of wasn’t – I just went out and did my best, tried to do what was good for the team.”
It can also be a daunting task to run a college offense as an 18-year old, leading a group of older players. So far, Baumhover has capably handled the job.
“He doesn’t have that senior leadership presence at this point,” Helminiak said. “He’s earned his clout by his play. Guys buy into him from a standpoint of how hard he plays and that he’s performing. When you execute and make things happen, guys start to buy into you. He’s got a good rapport with his receivers. If they do something wrong, if they do something right, they don’t get on one another, but he’s not afraid to bark at somebody if he needs to. It’s not an all-the-time deal, it’s done in a respectful manner. The guys have responded.”
Baumhover credits his uncle, Seth Baumhover, in helping develop him into a quarterback. Seth Baumhover was a former quarterback at Northern Iowa.
“He was definitely the guy that got me into being a quarterback,” Baumhover said. “We would spend days outside in my backyard doing drills, trying to get better. He was the guy that I really looked up to, just trying to be like him.”
There’s a lot to like about the Peosta, Iowa native as a quarterback. A former four-sport athlete in high school, Baumhover stands 6-foot-2, with a 205-pound frame that will fill out over the next three years.
He was heavily recruited out of Western Dubuque High School, but picked Loras after getting along with his future teammates while visiting the school. Helminiak was already familiar with Baumhover’s family. He attended Loras with Baumhover’s parents, Chris and Molly.
“He has a very strong arm,” Helminiak said. “He’s very competitive. Knowing his family well, they’re great people, so you knew what type of person you were going to get, we were going to get a really good person. I think that’s been another big benefit of his, he’s been very humble. You’re a freshman quarterback, you throw for eight touchdowns, almost tie an NCAA record, break our conference record, all our records here, and yet he’s giving praise to all of his teammates and stays pretty level-headed, which is really good for an 18-year old kid.”
While he’s had plenty of success this season, Baumhover still has room to improve, and has three years to build on this season’s success.
“We think he can be cleaner with his reads, there’s still things that he misses, and that’s okay,” Helminiak said. “You’ve got to understand that you’re going to get that with a young guy, but it’s not painfully bad, it’s not bad at all. We believe he’s got a chance to be really special. If he continues in the same manner that he is right now, and I mean in all phases, maturity, his work ethic, his competitiveness, his upside is tremendous.”
For Baumhover, it all comes down to gaining more experience.
“Game experience really boosts your mentality,” Baumhover said. “I just want more during reps in games, I want to score.”