It would be tough to find anyone more thrilled to learn the news the MHSAA plans to begin the 2020-21 school year playing fall sports as traditionally scheduled than Walled Lake Western quarterback Zach Trainor.
Trainor, a three-star quarterback and a member of The Detroit News Dream Team, is committed to Eastern Illinois.
Trainor has worked hard to prepare for his senior season, participating in multiple tournaments with Sound Mind Sound Body this winter in Miami and New Orleans, then working with Reggie Wynns’ Rising Stars program this spring and summer, throwing to KJ Hamler, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen.
Hamler (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, IMG Academy/Penn State) was picked in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and Peoples-Jones (Detroit Cass Tech/Michigan) was picked in the sixth round by Cleveland.
Trainor and Yaseen formed the premier combination in the state with Yaseen, now at Purdue, coming through with 86 receptions for 1,646 yards and 20 TDs to help Western reach the Division 2 state semifinals, suffering a heartbreaking 57-56 loss to eventual champion Muskegon Mona Shores to end its season at 11-2.
Trainor has been one of a talented group of quarterbacks the last several years at Western, joining Johnny Tracy (Princeton), who teamed up with Cody White to help Western reach the Division 2 state championship game in 2016, and Sam Johnson (Boston College), who played with Yaseen to help Western reach the regional finals in 2018.
Trainor, 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, had a phenomenal junior year, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 3,845 yards and 44 TDs with just four picks. He completed 31-of-41 for 385 yards and five TDs with one interception in the state semifinal loss.
“I’m excited to get going this fall,” Trainor told The Detroit News on Friday. “We’re expecting a great year. Obviously our goal is to win the state championship since we still have a sour taste in our mouth from last year, a point short from going to the state championship.
“We just want to go 1-and-0 each week, just keep knocking everybody down. Just for me personally, I just want to be the best leader I can be, just break a bunch of records and have a blast, hopefully go undefeated and win a state championship.”
Western lost Yaseen but Trainor said he still has a lot of weapons to work with this season.
“We have a lot of great players,” he said. “There’s Justin Gabriel, Pierce (Muthui-Edwards), Aiden Vaughn, Jon Abele, Cam Kinaia, Carson Barringer and Darius Taylor. They are all freak shows so I’m really excited about this year. It should be a lot of fun.”
Muthui-Edwards is a transfer from Harper Woods.
“Pierce is one of the quickest kids I’ve seen, he has sure hands,” said Trainor of Muthui-Edwards, who played quarterback at Harper Woods last season, running for a TD and throwing for another in a 17-12 district final loss to Detroit Country Day, which advanced to the Division 4 state title game.
“Pierce is probably one of the most underrated receivers in the state of Michigan. I don’t know how he doesn’t have at least FCS offers. His route running is the best I’ve seen. I think for sure he’s one of the top five 2021 receivers.”
Trainor has been working out the last couple of months, building chemistry with Muthui-Edwards, who will play in the slot.
“We’ve been getting work in for a couple of months now,” said Muthui-Edwards, who is 5-6 and 150 pounds with 4.59 speed. “Zach is probably the smartest football player I’ve ever met. He can throw the ball 70 yards. I’ve seen him do incredible things on the field, so I can’t wait to see what he can do on game day.”
Muthui-Edwards thinks his experience playing quarterback will help him as a receiver.
“I kind of see the game differently,” he said. “I can understand where the quarterback’s read is more, where he should go with the ball. … I feel like I can play anywhere, feel like I’m more dangerous in the slot, but I can play defense, on special teams. I can’t wait to get going.”
Trainor also gained valuable experience while playing with Sound Mind Sound Body and Rising Stars.
“In Miami we had a tournament and played some great competition, against some of the top guys in the nation, then when we went to Louisiana and went on a two-day road trip and visited Southern Miss, Ole Miss, LSU, Memphis and Arkansas State and got a chance to play in New Orleans for a tournament,” said Tranior, noting the trip to New Orleans was a week before spring break and just prior to the pandemic shutdown.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better with my anticipation and my arm strength for sure. I feel I’ve improved on my accuracy as well, putting it on each shoulder, being able to put the ball where the defense can’t get it.
“It was a great experience to go and throw to guys like KJ Hamler, Peoples-Jones and Abdur. I was able to do that since May, a couple of times a week. It was awesome. I got a chance to learn so much from those guys. KJ’s speed is unreal and Peoples-Jones is a freak athlete, and I think Abdur is the best receiver I’ve ever seen.”
Trainor said he learned a lot from Alex Grignon, who resigned as head coach at Western to take the tight ends job at Michigan Tech. Mike Weiskopf, last year’s offensive coordinator, will take over for Grignon.
“Coach Grignon was a great head coach, has a great football mind, just learned a lot about the game from him,” said Trainor. “He taught me the defensive perspective, how they look at my eyes, so he helped my mental game a lot.”
Trainor also said he has learned a lot by watching film.
“It’s one of the most important things for a quarterback for game prep,” he said. “You learn the team’s base coverages, what they like to do on down and distance or based on formation. I like to watch their best players, check out their tendencies, what their weaknesses are, what their strengths are, so we can go after their weaknesses and stay away from their strengths.”
Trainor said Eastern Illinois’ history of great quarterback play was one reason he chose the school.
“I’m truly blessed to be in the position I am, a historic school like Eastern Illinois who had players like Tony Romo, Sean Payton and Jimmy Garoppolo,” Trainor said. “Just talking with their coaching staff, I felt they have the same aspirations as I do. They are building something special there and I’m looking forward to going there next year and hopefully winning some national championships.”