Dave Glenn and Staff, ACC Area Sports Journal
September 8, 2003
Rivers Building Wolfpack LegendRALEIGH Chuck Amato's program wouldn't have generated so much preseason excitement if it weren't for one player: quarterback Philip Rivers. No matter what kind of recruiting Amato has done in Florida, the Wolfpack wouldn't be one of the schools hoping to knock Florida State off its long-held perch at the top of the ACC if it weren't for Rivers' football savvy, talent and leadership. When I think of N.C. State football, Roman Gabriel comes to mind. Roman Gabriel was an All-American, he was an (NFL) All-Pro and he's in both (college and pro) hall of fames, Amato said. It took 40 years to replace Roman Gabriel's name in N.C. State football history. It may take another 40 years to replace Philip Rivers, because he's that special. From the third practice of his first turn through spring drills in 2000, Rivers has been the Wolfpack's starter, and he has continuously improved in his four years at State. The Pack's recent trip to Wake Forest marked Rivers' 40th consecutive start, an amazing figure for a Division I-A quarterback, most of whom don't get their first chance until they have been in a program for three years. And, sure, State's first game was against Western Carolina, but Rivers' 2003 debut was head-shakingly good, even for those skeptical Heisman voters who knew nothing except that the Wolfpack was playing a Division I-AA opponent. Rivers completed 26 of 30 passes for 320 yards, for the best single-game completion percentage of his career. He's now over 9,000 yards passing, and he's 526 yards away from becoming the ACC's all-time leading passer. The thing is, his numbers against WCU could have been even better. Two of the incomplete passes were dropped by tailback T.A. McLendon, and another was a throw-away to avoid a sack, as Rivers yet again showed his uncanny knack for avoiding trouble. Sure, the offensive line should get all available props for allowing only 12 sacks in 14 games last year, but Rivers deserves as much credit for knowing how long to wait to get rid of the ball. There's nothing about Rivers' game that needs to be improved, awkward throwing motion included. And he has never blinked, despite Amato's revolving door of coordinators. Does all of that make Rivers a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate? Who knows? The early polls done with a sampling of voters indicate that the senior from Athens, Ala., is on their radar, which is amazing in itself. But the Heisman usually is won by the best player on one of the best teams in the country. Rivers certainly will get plenty of national exposure when the Wolfpack travels to play defending national champion Ohio State. If he engineers a victory, as he did against strong opponents (FSU, Notre Dame) in his final two games of 2002, then his stock will shoot up even more. If the Pack loses, no matter what kind of numbers Rivers puts up, his chances will be diminished. The key to the season, though, is keeping Rivers healthy, because there is still no proven backup in the N.C. State camp. The most important thing we'll do all year, Amato said, is take very good care of No. 17. One of Amato's other key goals for this season is to get more playing time for the heir-apparent, redshirt sophomore Jay Davis. The coach did that in the Western Carolina game, and Davis exceeded Rivers' remarkable completion percentage by connecting on eight of his nine passes, including a 25-yard TD to sophomore wideout Brian Clark. But the Clearwater, Fla., native has yet to see any appreciable time on the field when a game actually mattered. That's something the Wolfpack will need next year, when Amato finally has to accept that he can't call on No. 17 anymore. Davis clearly was better in the spring and preseason drills than redshirt freshman Chris Moore, who has yet to see action in a game. There is no guarantee that Davis will be Rivers' long-term replacement. Amato believes he quietly landed one of the best QB recruits in the nation last year when he garnered an early commitment from Pennsylvania product Marcus Stone. Stone threw for 5,871 yards and 50 touchdowns in his high school career, winning Parade All-America honors and the Gatorade player of the year award for his state. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he has the same kind of imposing physical presence as Rivers. Amato said he would like to redshirt Stone this fall but reserved the right to change his mind, especially in the case of an injury to Rivers or Davis. Recent QB signees: Toki McCray (transfer/
Eastern Kentucky) and Jatavis Sanders (transfer/East Tennessee State) in 1999; Rivers in 2000; Davis in 2001; Moore in 2002; Stone in 2003.
Prep Stars Stacked After SchaubCHARLOTTESVILLE Some Division I-A teams would be happy with one SuperPrep All-American quarterback. As of the second week of preseason practice, Virginia had four. We've got a quarterback-driven situation, UVa coach Al Groh said. That's why we recruit the way we do. Groh was speaking about the priority Virginia places on quarterbacks, although his comment just as easily could have referred to the Cavaliers' success rate. The talent pool became even deeper when transfer Chris Olsen, the offensive MVP in Notre Dame's spring game, enrolled in Charlottesville for the start of fall classes. Olsen will be ineligible for the Cavaliers this season, but that figured into his decision. He was looking for a top 25-level program relatively close to home (New Jersey) where he could compete for the starting job, and he knew UVa had a fifth-year senior at QB this fall. Olsen will have three years of eligibility with the Cavaliers, beginning in 2004. It looked as if Virginia's younger quarterbacks would be jockeying for position in the background until 2002 ACC player of the year Matt Schaub suffered a separated right shoulder in the first series of downs against Duke. At that point, Schaub, a 68.9-percent passer, had completed five of six passes and been victimized by a drop on his only miss. The preliminary indications were that Schaub's injury was not as serious as originally feared and that he would not miss more than two or three games. However, the Cavaliers were facing road games at South Carolina and Western Michigan with untested redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez (6-4, 238) as their starter. (Martinez) is a big, strong quarterback with a live arm, Groh said. Outside of that, until he has something on his rÈsumÈ, that's all just potential. Martinez completed six of 15 attempts for 76 yards against Duke and was just shaky enough to have Virginia briefly considering a streamlined package for one-time backup Marques Hagans (5-10, 207) prior to the USC game. Hagans, who started at quarterback for UVa against Florida State in the second game of the 2002 season, was moved to wide receiver in the spring and also handles punt returns. The general consensus at the start of camp was that true freshman Kevin McCabe would battle Martinez for the No. 2 job, and Groh's plan still is to use McCabe this season. But when asked for a summation of McCabe's progress early in camp, Groh replied in a word: confused. The coach later said McCabe would not have been ready to help in the season opener if the Cavs had needed him. Kevin's where (Martinez) was last year, and really where Anthony was in the spring, Groh said. But this isn't a kid who's shook up about it. He's got a real good temperament, and he understands this is all part of the process you go through to become a college quarterback. After the 27-0 victory over Duke, Groh said former walk-on David de Laureal (6-3, 205) would get increased practice time. De Laureal, a fourth-year junior who was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2002 season, was the successor to Eli Manning as the quarterback at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans and has a good understanding of the offense after signaling in plays for the past two years. Virginia was left with three scholarship quarterbacks in the program when Billy Schweitzer, a reserve in 2002, transferred to Division III Trinity College after spring practice. An unheralded prep prospect, Schweitzer never got into a game in his three seasons at UVa, including a redshirt year in 2000. Groh thinks UVa could be better in 2004 and 2005 if it can find a quarterback to replace Schaub, a 6-5, 240-pounder with leadership qualities to match his athletic talents. That's one reason Groh set out to sign two quarterbacks this year, a change in his basic philosophy of bringing in one per year. Recent QB signees: Schaub and Bryson Spinner (transfer/Richmond) in 1999; Schweitzer (transfer/Trinity) in 2000; Hagans and Heath Miller (moved to tight end) in 2001; Martinez in 2002; McCabe and Olsen in 2003.
Rix Remains Under MicroscopeTALLAHASSEE If you were to rank this season's stout crop of quarterbacks in the ACC on physical gifts alone, Florida State's Chris Rix would stand head and shoulders above Rivers, Schaub and everyone else. That's not a knock on the league's most frequently mentioned Heisman candidates. Rix even has superior arm strength and speed than former FSU greats Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, who have ownership of the bronzed guy extending a stiff-arm. What's prevented Rix from positioning himself within arm's length of those elite players are the seven losses the Seminoles have absorbed over the past two seasons, with the fourth-year junior from California at the controls. Poor decision-making and recklessness while prematurely dashing from the pocket have not earned him high marks. Rix isn't the first athlete to frustrate coaches with that confounding combination, but he's the quarterback the Seminoles have chosen to ride as they try to make their way back to their elite past. Despite a 14-7 record as the starter over his first two seasons, Rix entered 2003 with 4,418 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He's also the ACC's fifth-rated QB in career pass efficiency. Suspended for last season's Sugar Bowl after missing a final examination, Rix worked his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff by toning down his animated tantrums on the field and making good on promises to be more accountable off it. Consequently, he was named the team's MVP of spring practice. Described by FSU coach Bobby Bowden as a natural-born leader, Rix appears to have better command of the huddle, which goes hand in hand with earning his teammates' respect. That wasn't the case last season, when the squad was split in support of the affable-but-troubled Adrian McPherson and the talented-but-aloof Rix. Not everybody liked Chris Weinke, senior cornerback Stanford Samuels said. But everybody respected him. With his Lookout DB vanity license plate, his own website and a California cool that's as thick as the No. 16 (no kidding) gel he wears in his hair, Rix will never be the favorite son in Tallahassee, unless he produces victories. To that end, the coaching staff has gone to great lengths to help him. Surrounded by skilled talent, Rix will be spoon-fed plays that offer the best success, with a safety valve receiver always an option. By bringing him along slowly, the coaches will be able to more closely monitor how he handles the decision-making process. Once/if he does, they undoubtedly will loosen the reins. FSU's second QB option is 22-year-old junior Fabian Walker, who repeatedly earns higher marks from the coaches for his decision-making but has yet to fully master his passing control following offseason shoulder surgery. A prep All-American from Georgia who originally signed with the Seminoles in 1999, he wandered through eligibility issues for two-plus years and took a detour to junior college before getting his first significant action in Tallahassee last fall. Walker, who started the Sugar Bowl in Rix's absence, is a diligent student of the game (more than Rix) and the kind of quiet leader the Seminoles probably could win with, if necessary. Yet his upside isn't as clearly defined. Third-teamer Wyatt Sexton, a redshirt freshman and son of running backs coach Billy Sexton, clearly is emerging as the starter of the future. Though tall and lean, he has the best pure passing stroke of the trio, and as a coach's son he also brings other intangibles to the table. Barring the arrival of a lights-out prospect FSU has one high-profile QB commitment and expects a second in the near future Sexton should be poised to start as a redshirt junior. Ironically, that's the year Bowden prefers to throw his quarterbacks into the heat of battle, a luxury the coach didn't have when Rix took over as a redshirt freshman on opening day in 2001. Recent QB signees: Anquan Boldin (moved to receiver/graduated) and Walker in 1999; Rix in 2000; Matt Henshaw (moved to tight end), Joe Mauer (pro baseball), McPherson (dismissed) and Walker (re-sign) in 2001; Lorne Sam (moved to receiver) and Sexton in 2002; none in 2003.
Carolina: Durant, Then QuestionsCHAPEL HILL In 1998, North Carolina had to play a defensive back and a running back at quarterback because the program ran out of QBs in the middle of a turbulent season. A year ago, the Tar Heels' offensive production ceased when starter Darian Durant broke his thumb early in the second half at Virginia, and the offense didn't produce again until he returned for the final game. So, one of the most important positions at UNC may be backup quarterback. I'm trying to remember the last time I went through a season with just one QB, offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill said. I can't remember the last time. The backup quarterback now is just as important as the front line. Look at what happened to us last year. Matt Baker, a 6-2, 218-pound redshirt sophomore, is more athletic than C.J. Stephens but not as accurate a passer. Stephens, a 6-3, 212-pound fifth-year senior, is a transfer from Florida who was heralded as a potential star when Durant considered transferring last year. Stephens did enter the lineup after Durant got hurt, but he couldn't get the offense going. Baker and Stephens share the job as backup this year, with Stephens holding a slight edge because of experience. C.J. is a lot farther along, Tranquill said. Baker is a lot farther along. Last year when Durant went out, C.J. hadn't played for four years. Now all of a sudden he had to go in, and he's the guy. That's tough. Neither backup has proven capable of producing on the level of Durant. Overall, though, today's UNC roster is richer with possibilities than in 1998 or even a year ago, as the Tar Heels have five scholarship QBs. The staff is planning to sign one more in this year's recruiting class. Durant (5-11, 217) emerged as the secure starter during the last two years, overcoming his own indecision on whether he even wanted to play for UNC and a thumb injury that knocked him out for four and a half games in 2002. An inconsistent practice player, he has a knack for making plays on Saturdays, even against defenses designed to focus on him. He's ready to have his best season, UNC coach John Bunting said. We've emphasized leadership and management with him. He's always been a playmaker. Now he has all the tools to be a great quarterback. In the Tar Heels' season-opening 37-0 loss to Florida State, the offense moved the ball behind Durant but could not finish with scores. His receivers dropped several passes. Durant finished 18-of-31 passing for 145 yards and one interception. Those weren't sterling statistics for a QB of his caliber, but Bunting praised Durant for how well he managed the game, citing just two errors in judgment. Durant's decision to return for the season finale against Duke in 2002 helped him earn the respect of any teammates who may have been wondering about his commitment to the program. Today there is no doubt about his being the man. What Durant has done with his relatively brief time in the spotlight is what stands out. He led the ACC in total offense in 2002, set numerous UNC freshman passing records in 2001 and already owns the school record for TD passes. Carolina's newest additions to the rotation are true freshmen Nick Cangelosi (6-4, 215) and Roger Heinz (6-1, 195). Cangelosi threw for 59 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards as a three-year starter in high school in New Jersey, while Heinz was more of a run-or-throw threat for the winningest 1A (small school) program in Florida. Heinz has been compared to former Florida State star Casey Weldon because of his impressive athleticism, decision-making and leadership qualities. Both first-year players are expected to redshirt this season. Recent QB signees: none in 1999; Durant and Aaron Leak (arrested/dismissed) in 2000; Baker, Terrance Highsmith (dismissed) and Stephens in 2001; none in 2002; Cangelosi and Heinz in 2003.
Youth Parade Takes Over DeacsWINSTON-SALEM For more than a year, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe knew exactly what to expect from his quarterback. Once James MacPherson took the starting reins during his junior season, he presented his coach with consistency: decent arm, decent legs, great leadership skills, impressive toughness, steady execution, a careful tactician. Coaches love consistency and especially a quarterback who helps his team tie a school record for fewest turnovers (16) in a season, as MacPherson did last year. But even consistency has its drawbacks. While opponents feared Wake's offense, MacPherson himself didn't present any particular challenges. Teams worked feverishly to stop the Deacons' running game, but they didn't have to do anything special to prepare for MacPherson. So, sometimes Grobe wished for just a little more, specifically some bigger plays in the passing game, especially for a team that ran so strongly. Well, MacPherson is gone, and Grobe may have that little bit more this season in redshirt sophomore Cory Randolph (6-1, 188). The question: Just how much consistency will he have to trade to get it? Once the Demon Deacons get past Randolph, the QB situation gets even more interesting and not necessarily in a positive way, at least in the short term. For now, though, the team belongs to Randolph. And if you believe the coaches, he's poised to do something special. Cory has exceeded my expectations, Grobe said. The key for us is going to be how well the other 10 play. I don't have a doubt that Cory Randolph can get the job done. I really believe this guy can be special. When Grobe took over after the 2000 season, Wake's quarterback jar was virtually empty. On the recruiting trail in early 2001, he and then-offensive coordinator Troy Calhoun stole Randolph out of a commitment to Central Florida. Two and a half years later, Grobe said Randolph is showing even more than the staff originally expected: more smarts, more speed and a stronger arm. But how long will it take Randolph to settle in? That answer may determine Wake's record this season. Though he played some last fall, he's taking over leadership of a no-huddle offense and working with a new coordinator (Steed Lobotzke). Randolph has at least two things going for him, though: He works hard, drawing respect for his dedication in the film and weight rooms, and he has a lot of talent around him. We need Cory Randolph to just do what he's coached to do, Grobe said. He doesn't have to throw the team on his shoulders and win the game by himself. Randolph's reign started slowly, raising a lot of eyebrows. He looked bad in the spring game and in fall scrimmages, missing receivers and having balls batted down on a regular basis. His athletic ability tended to draw him out of the pocket too quickly. In the first three quarters of his first start (at Boston College), Randolph really looked awful, completing just five of 14 passing attempts with two interceptions. But he took over late in the comeback win, completing eight of nine throws in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns, including a beautiful 43-yard, defense-splitting strike to wideout Chris Davis on what Grobe called a throw-away pass call. So it looks as if Randolph will provide more of a roller-coaster ride for the Demon Deacons than MacPherson. It's just a question of whether there will be more screams of joy or fright this season. Zac Taylor (6-3, 187), a redshirt freshman, is Randolph's backup. Taylor, who was ranked the No. 21 pro-style quarterback in the nation as a high school senior by one recruiting service, picked up the offense quickly and looked good in the spring game. He needs to get stronger, though, and despite his talents, he could be destined to be a career reserve. That's because two freshmen already hold most of the attention for the future. The most recognized is Ben Mauk (6-1, 205), who set numerous prep passing marks during a career in Ohio that attracted national headlines. But Mauk, who committed early to Wake Forest, was not heavily recruited by most major programs, in part because of his size. Another question that lingers is whether his success was mainly a byproduct of the wide-open offense concocted by his father/coach. Bruce Hall (6-0, 195) didn't draw quite as much attention, but he has a big arm and fast feet (4.6 40). He gained respect by committing to Wake despite Mauk's earlier decision, and he did not look at all out of place while competing against top-flight Florida talent in high school. Several major college programs projected him as a quality receiver or defensive back, but the Deacons promised him a shot at QB. Both rookies have been impressive if inconsistent in practice, but the plan is to redshirt both this fall. If so, and if Randolph is as special as Grobe thinks, then both could spend much of their first three years in Winston-Salem on the bench. That might be a shock for some Mauk backers and fans who aren't used to QB depth, but it means Wake is acting like a real football program, where quarterbacks learn and grow behind another talented player before starting for only one or two seasons. Recent QB signees: C.J. Leak (transfer/Tennessee) in 1999; Anthony Young (moved to receiver) in 2000; Randolph and Nick Smith (transfer/James Madison) in 2001; Nate Morton (moved to receiver) and Taylor in 2002; Hall and Mauk in 2003.
Terps' Juggling Led To McBrienCOLLEGE PARK Two of Maryland's most highly touted recruits during the Ron Vanderlinden era were a pair of prep All-American quarterbacks. Landing Latrez Harrison after he reneged at the last minute on a commitment to Auburn was considered a real coup for Vanderlinden back in February 1999. When Maryland out-dueled Nebraska for local standout Chris Kelley the following year, it appeared the program was set at the all-important QB position for the future. Fast forward to 2003, when Harrison and Kelley figured to be hitting full maturity and battling tooth and nail to be the starting signal caller. Instead, Harrison is a senior in his second season as a starting receiver, while Kelley is a junior backup safety still in the midst of the tough transition from offense to defense. If Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had not accepted a pair of transfers, Maryland's QB situation would be quite gloomy this fall. Friedgen, operating under the philosophy that a team can never have enough quarterbacks, took Scott McBrien as a walk-on even though there were questions surrounding his sudden departure from West Virginia in 2001. The Fridge then brought Orlando Evans in from junior college to provide additional insurance. Lo and behold, those two are atop the depth chart this fall, since neither Harrison nor Kelley worked out at QB and redshirt freshmen Joel Statham and Sam Hollenbach aren't yet ready. McBrien was a major question mark coming into 2002 but now is considered one of Maryland's strengths. The slightly built southpaw made huge strides last season, rebounding from a shaky start to earn honorable mention All-ACC honors. A product of in-state power DeMatha Catholic, he displayed poise and pinpoint accuracy in ranking 12th nationally in efficiency rating, while his 2,497 yards passing were fifth-most in school history. Not bad for a local player the Terps declined to offer a scholarship out of high school. Indeed, Friedgen had some concerns upon learning that McBrien had quit the Mountaineers during 2001 preseason practice, angered by being dropped to third on the depth chart and alleged poor treatment from feisty WVU coach Rich Rodriguez. However, it didn't cost Maryland anything to take a look at McBrien, and his scout-team play was impressive enough to earn an invitation into the quarterback meetings. Now, after two full years in Maryland's complex system, McBrien understands the concepts well enough that Friedgen has expanded the playbook. Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe has added more motion and installed a multitude of new sets. Scott is light years ahead of where he was a year ago, Taaffe said, in terms of reading defenses and going deeper into his progressions. Bullets were flying left and right (last season), McBrien said. I was kind of lost. But it's totally different now. I know what I'm doing. I know why I'm doing it. Although questions linger about McBrien's arm strength, the staff is determined to have him throw the deep ball more often. That's because Friedgen wants to show a quick-strike capability that will stretch the field. Meanwhile, though McBrien did a much better job of running the option late last season, that's not his strength. He remains quick to pitch and simply does not have the size (6-0, 178) or speed to scare opponents when he keeps the ball. Evans (6-0, 202) is a good-looking athlete who is fully recovered from a knee injury that cut short his 2002 season and required surgery. The 22-year-old former Oregon signee has gotten a better grasp of the offense and brings a veteran presence to the huddle. He is probably the most dangerous option threat among the team's five QBs, but he has the weakest arm of the bunch. He surprised many by surpassing Statham and Hollenbach during spring camp, after completing nine of 12 passes for 108 yards and directing two long scoring drives during the annual Red-White game. He led his junior college team to a national championship in 2001. Orlando has a little better presence than the other two, Taaffe said, as he should because of his experience. Statham and Hollenbach have been up and down, showing flashes of potential while making too many mistakes. Neither has shown strong enough decision-making ability to inspire confidence. Statham (6-1, 207) is the more athletic of the two and came out of spring practice ahead in terms of understanding the offense. Hollenbach (6-5, 221) is more of a pocket passer and clearly caught up to his classmate in the overall knowledge department. While Statham is more comfortable running the option, Hollenbach has surprised the staff with his mobility. At this point, it is a complete tossup as to which of the two would play if both McBrien and Evans went down. Taaffe and Friedgen have had good things to say about true freshman Ryan Mitch (6-3, 201), who may have the strongest, most accurate arm in the stable. Mitch, another DeMatha product and a more highly rated prospect than either Statham or Hollenbach, is ticketed for a redshirt season this fall. Recent QB signees: Harrison (moved to receiver) in 1999; Shaun Hill (juco/graduated) and Kelley (moved to safety) in 2000; McBrien in 2001; Evans, Hollenbach and Statham in 2002; Mitch in 2003.
Whitehurst Leads Unproven CastCLEMSON Willie Simmons waited his turn to be Clemson's starting quarterback, but Simmons' stint lasted just half a season. One year later, Simmons is the co-starting quarterback at The Citadel, a Division I-AA program. The starting job at Clemson belongs to Charlie Whitehurst, who rooted Simmons out of the starting spot last fall, in large part because he did a better job of handling the ball. Whitehurst, a 6-4, 215-pound redshirt sophomore from Duluth, Ga., was 3-2 as a starter last season, when he set 22 Clemson records. Coming into this season as the clear No. 1 quarterback has been a different experience, Whitehurst said. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with it. But I look forward to the challenge. In his first start last season, at Duke, Whitehurst passed for 420 yards and four touchdowns. The 420 passing yards marked the second-most in ACC history by a first-time starter. He followed that up with 274 passing yards and four more TDs against North Carolina, the school Clemson beat out for Whitehurst on signing day in 2001. Whitehurst, the son of former Green Bay Packers quarterback David Whitehurst, truly won over the Clemson fans last fall when he led the Tigers to a come-from-behind victory over South Carolina. He ran 11 yards for the tying TD and completed 27 of 38 passes for 287 yards in the Tigers' 27-20 victory over the Gamecocks. Whitehurst showed what kind of potential he has in those games, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. There are some things he could get better at, but he is becoming a very reliable player for us. We need to be more productive at (other) positions. Since that victory over South Carolina, the going has been tough for Whitehurst. He took a serious physical beating and suffered a concussion in the Tigers' 55-15 bowl loss to Texas Tech. Then he took another physical beating, lost two center snaps and threw an interception that sealed Clemson's ugly season-opening loss (30-0) to Georgia. At times, it appears that somebody forgot to tell the Clemson coaching staff that Whitehurst is not Woodrow Dantzler. Whitehurst is a dropback passer, not an option/running quarterback. He didn't have a lot of opportunities to show his throwing skills against Georgia because he was too busy running for his life. Given time in a balanced attack, Whitehurst is more than capable of running a productive offense with aplomb. Whitehurst's passing ability and Clemson's talent at wide receiver helped inflate expectations for the offense this season. But if the first game was any indication, the staff still hasn't figured out how to use its strongest offensive weapons. Behind Whitehurst, there is a lot of potential but no proven commodities. The second-team QB is Chansi Stuckey, a 6-0, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Warner Robins, Ga. As a senior in high school, he passed for 1,286 yards and 13 TDs to lead Northside High to the Class 5A state championship game. Extremely quick and elusive, he is a quarterback in the Dantzler mold who will be used in specialty situations this fall. Will Proctor, a 6-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Winter Park, Fla., is the only other returning scholarship QB on the roster. Known as an excellent decision-maker in high school, where he threw for 4,082 yards and 44 TDs in his career, he has been overwhelmed at times by the quicker pace of the college game. After one particularly ugly, turnover-filled preseason scrimmage, Bowden said Proctor needs a lot of work. True freshman C.J. Gaddis, a 6-1, 205-pound native of Raeford, N.C., was rated among the top 10 prospects in North Carolina last year by several recruiting services. Gaddis, who played at the same high school (Hoke County) as former Clemson basketball star Terrell McIntyre, is an exceptional all-around athlete. He was drafted in the 20th round of the 2003 pro baseball draft by the Seattle Mariners. As a senior at Hoke County, he rushed for 591 yards and eight TDs and passed for 618 yards and eight more scores. He's expected to redshirt this fall with the Tigers. Recent QB signees: Simmons (transfer/
Citadel) in 1999; Brian Carr (moved to linebacker) in 2000; Whitehurst in 2001; Proctor and Stuckey in 2002; Gaddis in 2003.
Georgia Tech: Having A Ball?ATLANTA True freshman Reggie Ball has been handed the keys to the Georgia Tech offense, an arrangement that could last for four seasons. Generously listed at 5-11 and 192 pounds, Ball earned the job soon after arriving on campus in August, beating out incumbent starter A.J. Suggs, projected starter Damarius Bilbo and fellow rookie Patrick Carter. All four candidates made plenty of errors in the weeks leading up to the Yellow Jackets' season opener, but Ball seemed to commit fewer mistakes than the others and learn from them more quickly. All I did was go by what was happening on the field, second-year Tech coach Chan Gailey said. I think we were initially impressed by how (Ball) handled himself, by the way he understood the game, and by the way he played the position. There are no utopia quarterbacks as true freshmen. That doesn't happen. There are things he still needs to work on. Frustrated by Suggs' inconsistency and Bilbo's frequent mistakes during spring practice and preseason camp, Gailey and his offensive assistants desperately were looking for somebody anybody who could give the Yellow Jackets a chance to win this fall. The staff quickly developed an appreciation for Ball's unique package of Joe Hamilton-like skills during August drills. Nothing changed after the Jackets' 24-13 loss to Brigham Young in the opener, even though the team failed to score an offensive touchdown in the game. He was impressive for a true freshman on the field for the first time, Gailey said. He made two mistakes that I can see right now. Other than that, the guy played pretty danged good. Most of Ball's best qualities confidence, competitiveness, mobility, decision-making, leadership were found lacking in Suggs, a Tennessee transfer who started all 13 games last season but never got his teammates to rally around him. Throughout last year's inconsistent play, when Suggs threw 15 interceptions and 11 touchdowns, Gailey made part of his offensive philosophy crystal-clear: Suggs, a senior, will be the last dropback QB utilized by the Yellow Jackets as long as Gailey is calling the shots. Bilbo, a redshirt sophomore, took the majority of the snaps in spring practice and opened the fall as the No. 1 signal caller. But he struggled with turnovers and poor decisions last year and still made too many mistakes for Gailey's taste in August. One week into fall practice, the coach made the most dramatic decision of his brief tenure at Tech, moving Bilbo to another position and installing Ball as the first-stringer. After toying with the idea of transferring, Bilbo is learning the wide receiver and running back positions. He didn't play against BYU, but Gailey promised to take advantage of his athleticism somehow this fall. Ball, an 18-year-old from Atlanta, was recruited by dozens of major colleges as an athlete read: projected receiver or cornerback but few Division I-A programs were convinced of his future behind center. Tech was one of a handful to promise him a shot at QB, and so far he's more than rewarded the staff's faith. He's still learning game-management skills, and he's bound to make some mistakes, but he's an effective scrambler and a pretty accurate thrower when given time to see downfield. At Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson last year, Ball was named first-team all-state in Class 5A, the Peach State's largest classification. He passed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior, with 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and led Stephenson to a 31-6 record in his three years as a starter. After turning away all suitors who projected him at a different position (Auburn, Florida, LSU, Michigan), he picked Tech over Central Florida, Duke, Louisville and South Florida. Carter, who threw for 2,304 yards and 21 TDs as a high school senior last fall, emerged in the last few days of fall practice and eventually could challenge Ball for the starter's job. The younger brother of New York Giants receiver Tim Carter, Patrick was an honorable mention all-state player in Florida who chose Tech over Florida, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Purdue. Al Pena, the Yellow Jackets' third QB signee from the Class of 2003, enrolled at Tech in January but left the team during spring drills. He later said he planned to enroll at Oklahoma State, his other finalist coming out of high school, in January 2004. Recent QB signees: Brian Camp and Andy Hall (transfer/Delaware) in 1999; Mark Logan (moved to receiver) and Brandon Sumner (transfer/Central Florida) in 2000; Bilbo (moved to receiver), Rahshan Johnson (transfer/Bowling Green), Dawan Landry (moved to safety) and Suggs in 2001; none in 2002; Ball, Carter and Pena (transfer/Oklahoma State) in 2003.
Devils Need Someone, AnyoneDURHAM A year ago, you could almost hear the unspoken question in Carl Franks' head as he contemplated the two quarterbacks competing for the starting job. On the one hand was Adam Smith, who had the mental capacity to run the Duke offense but, even at 6-5, lacked the size (200 pounds, tops), speed and arm strength to win the game on pure ability. On the other hand was Rutgers transfer Chris Dapolito, whose arm was stronger, body was thicker and feet were quicker but who wasn't nearly as proficient as Smith when it came to decision-making. As Franks broke down his two quarterbacks not nearly as frankly as the above paragraph, but still clearly you could almost hear his unspoken question: What would Duke have if it could combine the best of Smith with the best of Dapolito? One year later, there is an answer: Mike Schneider. Schneider is a 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman and the hope of this Duke football team not only down the road, but this season. Whether Franks is the one to continue working with Schneider remains to be seen, but whoever coaches Duke from 2004-06 should get to work with one of the better-looking young quarterbacks in the ACC. By the end of his first spring practice, when he was named the team's most improved quarterback, Schneider had passed junior Chris Wispelwey as the third-teamer. Late into the fall camp, he had blown by Dapolito into the backup position. Not done, Schneider was pushing Smith for the starting job after the Blue Devils' dismal 27-0 loss to Virginia in the 2003 opener. Smith completed just six of 20 attempts for 47 yards against the Cavaliers, while Schneider connected on five of nine throws for 73 yards. A rare recruiting coup for Duke, Schneider turned down scholarship offers from Ohio State, Minnesota and other major programs after an impressive but little-noticed career at Sharon (Pa.) High, where his ability was kept mostly under wraps in a system that averaged just 11 passing
attempts per game. As he talks about Schneider and Smith, Franks can't help but indicate which quarterback has the higher ceiling. Mike has an extremely strong arm and is very athletic, Franks said before the opener. He just needs a little more knowledge of the offense, but that's part of a maturation of a young quarterback. He's really in the same position Adam was in this time last year. We didn't want to put Adam in a position where he had to win games with his arm, but Mike, as he matures, might be able to go win a game for us with his passing. In other words, Smith is a caretaker, and Schneider is a playmaker. Further down the depth chart, the 6-2, 215-pound Dapolito probably should consider changing positions. Franks' staff has a track record of turning athletic offensive skill players into contributors on defense, including former running backs Matt Zielinski (nose guard), Brendan Dewan (linebacker), Jamin Pastore (cornerback), Von Bryant (cornerback) and Malcolm Ruff (linebacker). Recent QB signees: none in 1999; Smith and Wispelwey in 2000; Dapolito in 2001; Schneider in 2002; none in 2003.