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Indiana football needed stability at QB position — Curt Cignetti wasted no time, bringing in a talented position class in 2024



Indiana football commit QB Kurtis Rourke
Getting a quarterback in the 2024 class was key for Curt Cignett and Indiana football -- so instead, they got three. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

One key area of the roster that Indiana football needed to address in the 2024 signing class was at the quarterback position. After losing starter Brendan Sorsby to the transfer portal and no high school QB signed in the class, it was uphill sledding at an important time.

But, one thing that the new Indiana football staff brought with them was a track record of quality quarterback play and the ability to do it at numerous different schools. So, it was an easy pitch when they hit the transfer portal and started targeting high profile recruits in the 2024 class.

“Right now quarterbacks are attracted to us because, when you put — take four different guys in five years and they’re all Player of the Year in the conference and they all have different styles, they recognize that you do a great job of developing quarterbacks,” Cignetti said on National Signing Day. “That’s a credit to Tino Sunseri, our quarterback coach, and Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator, and I’m involved in that a little bit too.”

Indiana landed three quarterbacks in this signing period — Ohio transfer Kurtis Rourke, four-star Tyler Cherry and three-star Alberto Mendoza.

With no consistent experience at the position, Rourke was a must-add. He threw for 7,666 career yards, 50 passing touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 36 career games. In 2022, Rourke threw for 3,257 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions before an ACL injury ended his season. He was still named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year.

He has a career completion percentage of 66.3.

“Definitely the emphasis was finding the quarterback. We thought he was a great candidate,” Cignetti said of Rourke. “Now, he’s got to come in and earn it because Tyler Cherry is a great candidate, and guess what, he’s going to be here for spring ball. I’ve had two freshmen in my coaching career that were here for spring ball that were the quarterback in the fall, and they were Newcomer of the Year, and we had great seasons both years.

“We also did not have another quarterback with a body of work that Kurtis Rourke has, and Kurtis Rourke knows how to play quarterback. While he’s got to do it between the white lines at Indiana, I fully expect him to do it. I think he’s going to be a great player for us.

“Rourke was Player of the Year in the league. He knows how to play quarterback. It’s very evident to me. Tom Brady knew how to play quarterback. Philip Rivers, who I coached, knew how to play quarterback.

More: Indiana Football Coach Curt Cignetti’s message is simple: ‘I win. Google me.’

“But you’re looking at a guy who’s thrown almost 1,000 passes, has completed 67 percent, has 55 career touchdown passes, about 13 interceptions, about 8,000 yards. Won ten games and nine games the last two years. He’s 6’5″, 231 pounds, and his brother was a quarterback before him, and he’s in the league with the Jags. It really came down to him declaring for the NFL draft or coming here.

Rourke’s resume speaks for itself, clearly. He’s been productive throughout the entirety of his college career up to this point. But, just like at every position for Cignetti — nothing is given. Rourke is going to have to prove he’s the starter.

“Everything’s earned, not given. Nobody’s promised anything. Like I do have guys — you know, am I going to be able to do this, do that? Once in a while, a guy wants you to promise them something. What am I, nuts? I’m going to promise you something so that goes around the locker room? Nobody has anything. Everything’s earned. That’s how we run our program,” Cignetti said. “He’ll (Rourke) compete for it, but he’s got a body of work. And that’s what I look for in the portal, I look for guys that have a body of work, guys that have started, played the entire season without getting injured and have production.”

Indiana wasn’t done with Rourke though. It flipped former JMU commit Alberto Mendoza and then went out and landed former Duke commit Tyler Cherry. Cherry becomes the second-highest rated quarterback to sign with Indiana football in the rankings era.

“They’re very similar in a lot of areas, but in the quarterback, what makes them special, the ability to process information quickly and make good decisions on the field. They’re both real quick thinkers,” Cignetti said of his high school QB signees. “I think it’s really important a quarterback be able to sort of extend plays, like when he gets in a bind, whether it’s with his legs or up and out in the pocket, eyes down the field, make a throw. Guys that can’t operate outside the pocket, move their feet, forget it nowadays with all the stuff you see.

“The one guy’s got really, really great arm talent. The other guy’s got really, really good arm talent. The one guy’s got really, really good movement. The other guy’s got good movement. They’re both winners. Their teams win, and they win big, and they’re both really smart. Excited about both of them. One guy will be here for spring ball. One guy won’t.”

Related: Indiana football 4-star signee Tyler Cherry ‘most slept on’ QB in 2024 class

Three wasn’t the ‘must have’ number for this staff. There is never the ‘right’ number of quarterbacks. But, Cignetti understands the importance of the quarterback position — not just for one year but being able to develop guys for a year or two and be fully prepared when they take over.

So, despite taking three QBs, that was never the plan written in pen.

“No, no number. I was looking for a guy that could come in and be the guy, compete to be the guy,” Cignetti said. “Tayven Jackson has started games. I was excited to see how far Tino Sunseri could take him. All these quarterbacks really, with the same guy tutoring them from day one until the end of the season, which they didn’t have last year. In our offense, which last year’s offense was pretty fundamental and basic, fairly simple. I think ours will probably have a lot more pass concept volume and other things, which I think will put the defense in conflict more. Now we’ve got to execute it.”

At the end of the day, Cignetti feel he got that in this quarterback class. More importantly, he knows the stiff competition will bring the best out of everyone at the position, and ultimately raises the ceiling of the starter — and program.

“Multiple years of production is even better,” Cignetti said about what he likes in QBs. “Because I firmly believe this: Like there are some intangible qualities that it takes to be a starter and make it through a season. You’ve got to be able to handle adversity, success, have consistency in performance. There’s just some characteristics and traits.

“So I’d much rather have a guy that’s put it on the field and has statistical numbers than a guy that’s maybe second or third team at the No. 1 team in the country and has great potential but he was sitting behind two really good guys. I don’t buy that. Good players find a way to get on the field.”

SEE ALSO: ‘We’re bringing a bunch of really good football players’: Curt Cignetti details Indiana football recruiting class after ‘whirlwind’ of first 20 days

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.