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Beacons by position: Appel Jr. ready for second year as starting quarterback

Second in a series of nine position previews leading up to the Valparaiso football season opener on Aug. 31.

Mikey Appel Jr. has been through a lot in his first two years at Valparaiso.

The sophomore quarterback arrived in the fall of 2021 and spent the entire season on the sidelines while learning the playbook under offensive coordinator Chris Limbach. After being named the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, Appel entered into an intense competition with Mason Kaplan, Teryn Berry and Jeffrey Jackson in the spring of 2022. That competition spilled into the fall under offensive coordinator Will Fleming, and Appel ultimately won the job.

Appel performed admirably last season in his first collegiate action, throwing for 1,878 yards and 10 touchdowns, and was named Valparaiso’s Most Improved Player. Now, under his third offensive coordinator in three years, and firmly entrenched as Valpo’s starting quarterback, Appel is ready to take his game to the next level.

”I feel like the game has definitely slowed down for me,” Appel said. “My head was spinning in the first year and I didn’t know anything. The second year was obviously a huge jump with playing. The games were coming fast, but now in this past spring and summer, everything is clear to me. I know what I’m doing out there. I feel very confident out there.”

To an outsider, Appel isn’t an imposing figure. The Ohio native might stand 6-foot-3, but he has a boyish smile and an innocent charm. For the Friday Night Lights fans out there, think Matt Saracen. Behind the quiet demeanor is an intelligent and calculated brain that is waiting to strike. Not only does Appel have the smarts to play the toughest position on the field, but two years in, he now is armed with confidence.

“I proved myself last year,” Appel said. “I am meant for this. I can do this. This year it’s about coming out and being confident. The big thing for me this year is to bring guys along with me. I can’t let someone get their head down after a bad play. I have to keep guys moving. I feel like when guys see that I’m rolling this year, we’re going to be rolling.”

Appel’s words, when read off the page, may have a cocky tone, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He is sincere in his belief that after two years of putting in plenty of work on and off the field, the time is now for everything to come to fruition. The intention isn’t to be cocky, it’s the confidence that hard work truly pays off. It’s one of the first things first-year offensive coordinator Matthew Symmes noticed about Appel.

“He’s really a hard worker,” Symmes said. “He is really bright and he sees the field exceptionally well. He’s accurate, and more than anything else, he’s really tough. I went back and watched the tape from last year and he got hit some. He’s standing in there taking the hits with his body. I think the players respect that more than anything else.”

Appel certainly absorbed some blows last year, including in the season opener against Indiana Wesleyan when he was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. He missed the following week at Illinois State, but came back the next week with a season-high 22 completions against Dartmouth. Appel’s breakout games came in consecutive weeks against Morehead State and Dayton. He threw for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Eagles and then for a season-high 323 yards and two more touchdowns against the Flyers. Appel’s 1,878 passing yards were the most for a Valparaiso quarterback in a single season since Jimmy Seewald threw for 2,602 yards in 2017.

Appel became the first freshman since Seewald to be Valparaiso’s primary starter at quarterback last season. Seewald threw for 1,443 yards as a freshman before nearly doubling that number as a sophomore. In doing so, Seewald became the first quarterback in 14 years to lead Valparaiso to a winning record. Appel has bigger aspirations for his second season at the helm.

“I think a PFL championship is very much in reach this year,” Appel said. “I don’t think there’s another team in this conference that has the talent level we do. I think defensively we’re scary. That’s one thing about our offense. We’re going against one of the better, if not the best, defense in the conference every day. It’s making us better. When we have success against our defense, we’ll have success against anybody.”

With a year under his belt as the starter, Appel brings some stability to a position that has been anything but stable since fifth-year coach Landon Fox took over the program. While Fox stopped short of appointing Appel the starter when he spoke to The Victory Bell during the second week of training camp, he did note that Appel is in the lead.

“I think this is the first time (since I’ve been here) that we could say there might be a leader (going into camp),” Fox said. “I don’t want to say that he’s necessarily our starter because I don’t think that’s fair when you’re only a handful of practices in, but the reality is he’s out in front and guys are chasing him.”