Local college football coaches will evaluate statistics, pore over practice video and consult with their staffs. Then, they are as likely to use their heart as their head to choose a starting quarterback.
William and Mary, Hampton University and Christopher Newport had three-man competitions for quarterback during preseason camp. As opening week approaches, all three schools are close to identifying a starter.
Kelchner said of the Captains’ situation. “You go with your gut.”
No such competition exists at Old Dominion, where sophomore Taylor Heinicke is entrenched as the starter after his remarkable freshman season. Norfolk State seeks to replace MEAC co-Offensive Player of the Year Chris Walley, but backup Nico Flores has run with the first-team offense the entire preseason.
William and Mary’s competition is among Brent Caprio, Michael Graham and Raphael Ortiz. None of the three had separated himself heading into Wednesday afternoon’s intrasquad scrimmage, according to quarterbacks coach David Corley Jr.
“They’ve all done some things well and have had some things they need to improve on,” Corley said. “We’re still working through that process.”
The Tribe had hoped to narrow the competition to two midway through camp, which would have permitted a more focused evaluation in the final couple of weeks. But all three remain in contention as W&M begins preparation for the Sept. 1 opener at Maryland.
Graham and Caprio, redshirt juniors, both started games last season. Ortiz, a redshirt sophomore, saw brief duty. Graham and Caprio are pocket passers, while Ortiz is a bit more athletic and capable of making and extending plays on the run.
Caprio completed 63 percent of his passes, but averaged only 72.3 yards per game and threw more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six). Graham, whose season was cut short by injury, averaged 157.4 yards passing per game. W&M was ninth in the CAA in pass offense, 93rd nationally, at 168.5 yards per game and 10th in the conference in pass efficiency.
“I see improvement from where we were in the spring,” Corley said. “I think they’re a little more confident. That left kind of a bad taste in our mouth, from last season and this past spring, so I think they’re really dedicated and committed to working to improve. We just want to keep taking steps toward the finished product as we get closer to the first game.”
At Hampton, Travis Champion and Najee Tyler separated themselves from Bethel High graduate Aris McGlone-English during preseason camp. One will start next Thursday in the Pirates’ opener at Tennessee Tech.
“They’re getting equal reps and we’ll probably make a decision sometime next week,” HU coach Donovan Rose said.
Champion, a 6-2 sophomore, played in four of the final five games last season after starter David Legree was sidelined by injury. He completed 70 percent of his passes for 494 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions, averaging almost 10 yards per completion.
Tyler is a 6-5, 240-pound junior-college transfer from Brooklyn, N.Y., by way of Coffeyville JC. Both are digesting the Pirates’ Air Raid offensive scheme, brought in by new offensive coordinator Earnest Wilson.
Rose described Champion as more of a game manager less likely to take risks, while Tyler’s size and athletic ability can translate to big plays.
“I think right now it’s a matter of who masters it overall,” Rose said. “Because the offense itself is not designed to go up top every play. It’s taking what you get. It’s a matter of who’s more comfortable and who’s in better control, regardless of whose arm is stronger.”
All three quarterbacks in CNU’s competition started games last season. Kelchner said that senior Aaron Edwards has a slight edge over junior Lyndon Garner, who is just ahead of senior Christian Woelfel-Monsivais.
Kelchner said that criteria for evaluating quarterbacks include measurables and intangibles. Completion percentage, yards per attempt, interceptions and dropped passes are taken into account, as well as factors such as command of the huddle, decision-making, body language and making players around you better.
Kelchner discusses the quarterback position not only with the offensive staff, but defensive assistants as well.
“I’ll ask them: Who’s the toughest to defend in certain situations?” he said.
The Captains will scrimmage at Bridgewater on Friday, then prepare in earnest for the season opener Sept. 1 against nationally ranked Salisbury. Kelchner said he hopes to have the week one depth chart done by Saturday, quarterbacks included.
Final scrimmages, the coaches say, aren’t a litmus test or the decisive factor in who will line up under center in the openers.
“It’s not like a class syllabus, where the final (exam) is worth 50 percent, or something like that,” Corley said. “At the end, we want to step back and take a look at the whole body of work. That’s the plan.”
Quarterback competitions down to the wire at W&M, Hampton, CNU
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