Indiana Daily Student

The legend of Zander

Freshman quarterback Zander Diamont runs the ball during IU's game against Purdue on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Freshman quarterback Zander Diamont runs the ball during IU's game against Purdue on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Zander Diamont wasn’t supposed to play in 2014.

The freshman quarterback was supposed to ride the bench. He was supposed to take a redshirt and serve as an understudy to junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld. He was supposed to add body mass and strength in the weight room in a non-pressure environment.

Then, Sudfeld got hurt.

The backup plan was fellow freshman Chris Covington, which was fine until he, too, got hurt, leaving IU without much choice.

Diamont was thrown into the spotlight just in time to start against Michigan State. A far-from-ideal opponent that prides itself on defense for a freshman to get his first action against.

Diamont went 1-5 in six starts for IU in 2014. He completed 45.4 percent of his passes for 396 yards, one touchdown and four ?interceptions.

The results show struggles. But considering that minus two transfers, Diamont was nearly a fifth-string quarterback, IU Coach Kevin Wilson was pleased with Diamont’s progress after Saturday’s win against Purdue.

“He’s tough, he’s competitive, he’s got some grit, he’s got a long way to go,” Wilson said. “Would’ve been nice not to have played him this year, but the way he battled gave us chances in games.”

Diamont was put virtually 10 weeks behind schedule when Sudfeld and Covington both got hurt.

IU’s plan was to redshirt Diamont all along. For nearly three months, Sudfeld and Covington split snaps in practice while Diamont saw little reps between third and fourth string. When he did play, it was on scout team.

Ultimately, that hurt Diamont when it came time for him to take center stage. He wasn’t nearly as prepared as Wilson wanted him to be, but there wasn’t much IU could do with its hands tied by NCAA rules.

There weren’t enough practice hours in the day for Diamont to properly catch up to speed which meant he was doing most of his learning on the fly during games.

But learning against a practice scout team and learning against a Michigan State defense are two radically different things. Teammates routinely spoke about how confident they were in Diamont’s abilities, but first Diamont had to gain the confidence in himself.

“Zander’s done all we’ve asked him to do,” senior receiver Nick Stoner said before IU played Michigan. “It’s a tough situation for him, but he’s taken it in stride. He’s confident out there and you can see him getting better each week.”

After five consecutive losses and with another losing season already in the books, Diamont came through for IU when it needed him most — against Purdue.

In his final opportunity of the season, Diamont manufactured an eight-play, 65-yard game-winning drive capped off by a 1-yard scramble with 27 seconds left Saturday in a 23-16 win against ?Purdue.

He completed five of his final seven passes in the fourth quarter for 40 yards. Diamont referred to the drive as a dream scenario.

“It was so surreal,” Diamont said. “Those last 20 seconds they had the ball, I had my eyes closed the whole time. I was just ready to celebrate with my teammates. With everything we’ve been through this season, it means the world.”

Diamont’s progression as he saw increased playing and practice time was obvious. What’s not as obvious is his future.

Sudfeld will be back from injury next season and will likely take the starting spot back over. Diamont will have an opportunity to redshirt of the coaches choose to do so and he may take over again in 2016.

At the same time, the Hoosiers are pursing junior college options, most notably East Mississippi Community College quarterback Chad Kelly, who visited IU last weekend.

A former four-star recruit and nephew of hall of fame quarterback Jim Kelly, Chad Kelley has thrown for 3,472 yards and 42 touchdowns against eight interceptions this season after being dismissed from Clemson for what his coaches described as ?behavioral problems.

At the high school level, IU lost its commitment from Decatur Central quarterback Tommy Stevens for the class of 2015, but have targeted Avon quarterback Brandon Peters who would be a freshman in 2016.

Where Diamont will be playing in two years is a bit of a mystery. But he’s not trying to worry about his future too much.

At least not yet.

“I’ve pushed those thoughts out of my head, for sure,” Diamont said. “The focus has been this year. The guys have come together and we’ve rallied around that thought. It’d be pointless to worry about next ?season.”

Diamont’s playing time and development will no doubt pay dividends in the future. He’ll go into the offseason having had his first taste of a win and with ?confidence.

Now he’ll look to find consistency.

“What it’s done for my future here — and my career — it’s priceless,” Diamont said. “Getting thrown into the fire, overcoming adversity and dealing with aspects of being a starter when I maybe was supposed to redshirt or sit out. To have this moment with my teammates, with everything we’ve been through, it’s special. It means a lot.”

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