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CARBONDALE — SIU's starting quarterback for next week's opener at No. 17 Southeast Missouri State never knew he was the favorite for the job.

And that kind of fits third-year sophomore Stone Labanowitz. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Florida native led A.S.A. Junior College in Brooklyn to a 9-1 record in 10 starts as a true freshman in 2017. The Stuart, Florida native went to Brooklyn sight unseen, knowing he was going to be in a quarterback battle, and won the job in the fall. He became the Northeast Conference Offensive Player of the Year, throwing for 23 touchdowns and 2,275 yards with nine interceptions. 

"Stone has never lacked confidence. He wouldn't be standing here if was a kid that lacked confidence," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "That's how he's gotten here. He's always bet on himself, and now he's here. If I didn't feel good, I wouldn't have chosen him."

Entering fall camp, Labanowitz was firmly behind redshirt freshman Nic Baker and junior college transfer Karé Lyles, a junior from Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, in the race to succeed fifth-year seniors Sam Straub and Matt DeSomer. None of the three had ever started a game at SIU, which made Labanowitz believe he was just as capable of leading the team as they were. Then he had to undergo back surgery, missed most of spring ball, and felt like he was forgotten.

"I definitely did, but that's the story of my life. That's how it's always been with me," Labanowitz said. "When you guys put me in dark places, I'm smiling and having a party the whole time. You guys really don't know. I did feel forgotten, but that just fueled my fire. That's just how I grew up."

Hill called Labanowitz the most consistent of the three quarterbacks through summer workouts and fall camp, and said when he put him in difficult situations, he put the Salukis in good positions. 

"It was close. It was tight, and when I say that I really do feel like we have three quarterbacks that you could put out there and win games, but Stone is going to get the ball and I'm excited for his opportunity and what he brings to our team," Hill said.

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Hill said Lyles and Baker are still battling for the backup quarterback role. Freshman Zach Zebrowski in the fourth quarterback on the roster. 

Labanowitz played in one game last year, completing a 6-yard pass in SIU's loss at Ole Miss, and signaled in plays for Straub and DeSomer. He averaged less than three yards a carry at ASA Junior College, but has shown some escapability during camp. Labanowitz said one of his best attributes is knowing what he can't do on the field.

"I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. I'm not gonna chuck the ball 70 yards down the field," he said. "That's just not who I am, but I can put it on time and in the right spot for all the guys. I played to my strengths my whole career, and accuracy and anticipation are probably two of the main ingredients to my game."

SIU opens the season Thursday night in Cape Girardeau. Kickoff at Houck Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m.

Labanowitz can't wait to try to lead a Saluki resurgence, after the team finished 2-9 last year.

"There were days where Kare had his day, and Nic had his day," Labanowitz said. "It bounced around, but I stayed positive. Positive energy and positive attitude are so underrated. So, we definitely all had our days, but I felt comfortable and confident in myself strapping on the helmet every single day in fall camp."

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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