Charleston, Ill.--At this time last year Mitch Kimble could only watch his teammates in the annual Eastern Illinois spring game. Sidelined while recovering from back surgery, the Syracuse transfer was far from being in any semblance of game shape.
This time around Kimble shined as the Panthers closed out spring practice with its yearly April game at O'Brien Field. The redshirt senior led two scoring drives. He was 16-of-25 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including a 45-yard Hail Mary heave to receiver Andre Hollins just prior to the end of the first half.
"Mitch looked good out there today," offensive coordinator Greg Stevens told Prairie State Pigskin. "Last year he really didn't have a chance to do his offseason training since he was coming back (from injury)."
A year ago, Kimble's recovery left little, if any time, for offseason weight training and conditioning. Thus, the Jerseyville, Ill. native was forced to hit the ground running in summer preseason camp and head right into the season opener against rival Western Illinois.
That lack of training time resulted in an injury-plagued season. Despite a variety of ailments (including a concussion) that sidelined him for four games, Kimble earned Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer team honors. The 6-foot-3 quarterback was named OVC Offensive Player of the Week after leading the Panthers to a victory over FBS member Miami (Ohio) in September.
Kimble spent this offseason injury-free and put on 25 pounds. Now listed at 210, Kimble is confident his troubles are in the rearview mirror.
"Last spring I couldn't do anything," Kimble said after Saturday's game. "It feels good to be out here."
Fellow senior Addison Bounds is thrilled for his teammate.
"Having him healthy is huge," the receiver said. "Staying consistent means our offense is running smoothly."
With Kimble out a year ago, EIU wound up playing three other quarterbacks. The results were an offensive roller coaster that turned the ball over and struggled with penalties far too often.
"When you're changing quarterbacks in and out, things are tougher," Bounds said. "When you have to bring a new quarterback in, the rhythm is thrown off and it's an adjustment. Having the same guy in there (at quarterback) is big for us."
EIU will return to campus in early August for fall camp before opening the season on Aug. 31 at Indiana State. The Panthers will then play at FBS member Northern Illinois on Sept. 9 before hosting Illinois State on Sept. 16 for EIU's home opener and the annual Mid-America Classic.