Prather looking to get a chance at RMU

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – John Banaszak made his first on-field appearance as the Robert Morris University football coach during Saturday’s spring game inside Joe Walton Stadium.

Banaszak, who has spent the past 11 seasons as an assistant as well as assistant head coach, become the Colonials’ gridiron boss in December with the retirement of Walton. During his NFL playing days, Banaszak won three Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For Big Red graduate Marcus Prather, who is competing for playing time at quarterback, the coaching change represents an exciting time at RMU.

“Banaszak is a great coach and I’m very honored to have a chance to play for him,” said Prather, who will be a red-shirt sophomore during the upcoming season. “Our offense is completely different from last season.

“We were a pro-style offense last season and now under Darrin Hicks (the new RMU offensive coordinator), we are a no huddle, fast-paced play action type offense. It’s really fun to be a part of this new offense and it definitely will keep the defense on its heels.”

In his years guiding the Colonials, Walton compiled an overall record of 114-92-1 and captured six Northeast Conference championships. He was named the university’s first head coach in 1993 and started the program from scratch, completing everything from hiring assistants to purchasing equipment to recruiting student-athletes for the program’s inaugural season in 1994. Since 2005, Robert Morris has played its home games in the stadium that bears his name.

Prather landed at RMU in August 2013 after starting his college career at the University of Akron.

“I wanted to be closer to home and attend a school that is known for its outstanding academics,” said Prather, who threw for 1,873 yards and 20 touchdowns during his senior season at Big Red. “I was offered by Robert Morris out of high school and really liked the coaching staff and the direction the program was headed.

“I had a couple of other offers after leaving Akron but the felt the best place for me was Robert Morris.”

Prather broke camp a season ago as the third quarterback on the RMU depth chart. In 2011, his only campaign as the starter, he helped Big Red go 11-1, losing a 24-22 heartbreaker to eventual Division III champion Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in the Region 11 quarterfinals.

The 2011 Steubenville team earned the Ohio AP poll championship for its unbeaten regular season, the OVAC Class 4A crown and became just the fifth squad in school history to dispose of Massillon’s Tigers.

Robert Morris finished 5-6 in 2013 and went 3-3 in NEC play. Prather saw action in seven games, passing for 347 stripes and two scores.

During his first collegiate start (a 17-13 come-from-behind road victory over Wagner), Prather threw for 204 yards and the two touchdowns, both coming in the final eight minutes of the game. He completed five of eight passes for 63 stripes on the game-winning drive. He was named the NEC rookie of the week for his efforts, marking the first time a RMU player earned the honor on the offensive side of the ball since 2009.

With spring practice winding down, Prather is working hard to earn more playing time in 2014.

“As of right now, it’s an open competition,” Prather said of the RMU quarterback derby. “All I can do is prepare myself the best I can to help the team win.

“I think we’ll have a very successful season. Our coaching staff and all the guys on the team are working very hard to accomplish our goals this year.”

Prather was joined at spring practice by another Big Red product, wide receiver Matt Petrella. He enrolled at RMU in January.

“It’s awesome having Matt on the team now,” Prather noted. “It helps when you have a receiver who you played with in high school. I’ve been throwing to Matt for a lot of years. We have great timing with each other.”

Petrella, a red-shirt freshman, has been running with the second team during spring drills. He is backing up senior Duane Mitchell, who owns the RMU record for receptions in a season. Petrella also is expected to see duties on special teams for the Colonials.

“I love playing with Marcus, especially since he is my cousin and the Big Red relationship is still there,” Petrella stated. “Every time he completes a pass to me, we get fired up because it feels like high school all over again.”

RMU is scheduled to open its 2014 campaign on Aug. 28 against Eastern Kentucky.