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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:01 pm

Terrell, WMU rowing way to big success

NOAH TRISTER | Associated Press

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – In Western Michigan’s final home game of the season, Justin Ferguson injured his ankle and had to be taken off on a stretcher. The crowd began clapping and teammates came over to hug the senior safety. And then Ferguson, who was able to sit up slightly, began motioning with his arms, reaching them forward and pulling them back.

Rowing the boat.

It began as a curious catchphrase for a program that needed any publicity it could get, but now Western Michigan’s "row the boat" mantra has become a recognizable rallying cry to college football fans around the country – the "Roll Tide" of the Mid-American Conference. Not only have players bought into coach P.J. Fleck’s quirky motivational tactics, fans have also embraced the team’s philosophy and identity – especially now that the 13th-ranked Broncos are taking an undefeated record into tonight’s MAC championship game against Ohio.

Quarterback Zach Terrell, a Homestead graduate, was a redshirt freshman during Fleck’s first season.

"We were probably both very unimpressed when we first met each other," Fleck said. "He probably looked at me and said, ‘How did you get this job?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘How did you get here?’ "

Fleck wanted Terrell to show more leadership, and the quarterback has blossomed since then. His stat line this season is like something from a video game: He’s thrown for 3,086 yards while completing 72 percent of his passes – with 30 touchdowns and one interception. It helps to be able to throw to receiver Corey Davis, who last week became the career FBS leader in yards receiving.

After going 1-11 in Fleck’s first season, the Broncos are 28-10 since, including the 12-0 mark this season that includes wins over two Big Ten teams.

"That’s just a testament to Coach Fleck and this entire staff," Davis said. "They believed in us when we didn’t even believe in ourselves. They stayed with us, and we kept rowing, kept our oars in the water, and here we are."

Fleck’s success has turned him into a popular name for open jobs as the season winds down. There is an opening at Oregon, and Fleck’s name has also come up in speculation about the Purdue job.