When Lee Hull informed Robert Council earlier this week that he would open Morgan State's season as the starting quarterback, the news elicited just the slightest smile from Council.
No whoops of joy or leaps into the air.
"That's just my expression," Council, a redshirt senior, said of his muted reaction. "That's how I act. I was excited, but I just didn't want to show it."
Another reason could be that Council has been down this road before and is fully aware that his grip on the starting position is not cemented. Last season under former head coach Donald Hill-Eley, Council, Seth Higgins and Moses Skillon all started games for the Bears. Another rotation between those quarterbacks has not been ruled out by Hull, who was hired in January.
The Bears begin their first season under the former Maryland assistant Saturday at Eastern Michigan.
With Higgins, a senior, still recuperating from offseason shoulder surgery and Chris Clack Jr., a redshirt freshman, adjusting to collegiate play, Skillon is Council's primary competition for snaps under center. The redshirt junior said he has no plans to just sit back and carry a clipboard.
"I have to prepare like I'm the starter," Skillon said. "We were mixed around last year. I'm taking that back seat, but I'm still preparing as if I'm taking the first snap."
In 2013, Higgins (Edgewood) earned five starts and led all quarterbacks in passing yards (609), passing touchdowns (seven) and rushing yards (478). Council, who also made five starts, had the best completion percentage (53.0) and tied Higgins for the most rushing touchdowns (five). Skillon, who started twice, had the fewest interceptions (two).
But injuries and inconsistency led Hill-Eley to switch quarterbacks almost on a weekly basis. (Council made four consecutive starts, which was a season high.)
Instability at the quarterback position is not new to Hull. He was the wide receivers coach at Maryland in 2012 when the Terps went through five quarterbacks, losing four to injuries before eventually resorting to freshman linebacker Shawn Petty taking snaps.
"I told both of them," Hull said, referring to Higgins and Skillon, "that they could be one snap away from being a starter. … The other guys have to be ready to go, and they have practice and prepare as if they are the starters. That's what I relayed to them."
In this age of college football, Hull said it's almost inconceivable to expect a single quarterback to go through a season free of injury or ineffectiveness.
"[Going with one quarterback for an entire season] is difficult to do," he said. "So those guys have to be prepared to play. They have to be ready. They've got to prepare every week as if they're starting, and these guys have been doing that."
Hull said one factor in his decision to start Council is that he had a more comprehensive grasp of the offense than Skillon did in the preseason. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Council outplayed Skillon in a scrimmage, completing 7-of-12 throws for 85 yards and directing two scoring drives.
"We all played pretty well in the preseason," Council said. "Coach said he feels comfortable with all of us, but he just wants us to get the team together and get the offense quicker. He wants everything to move faster, and right now, he feels like I'm better at doing that right now. But it can always change. I've just got to keep practicing and doing the right things."
The 6-5, 230-pound Skillon connected on 5-of-10 passes for 48 yards, was intercepted twice, and sacked three times in that scrimmage. But Skillon, who has the strongest arm of the trio, said he felt he had played well enough to warrant consideration to start against Eastern Michigan.
"I was a little upset, but at the end of the day, Coach felt like [Council] was the better quarterback to go with right now," Skillon said. "I can live with that. All I can do is go out to practice and work hard every day to try to get better to help lead this team."
No one knows how quickly Hull will pull any one of the quarterbacks if the offense stalls, but Council said he will not be looking over his shoulder.
"It doesn't worry me at all because Coach is going to put all of us in the right positions to lead the team," Council said. "If it's Moses, I would be happy for him. Whenever my number is called, I want to be ready to play and showcase what I can do. ... I feel like we can all get the job done."
NOTE: Morgan State plans to honor Marquese Meadow with a helmet decal and a moment of silence before Saturday's season opener at Eastern Michigan. The freshman defensive lineman died Sunday of heat stroke. "We're talking about our brother," Council said. "So we want to do anything and everything to show his family how important he was to us."
BEARS AT A GLANCE
COACH: Lee Hull, first year
2014 RECORD: 5-7
Saturday: Eastern Michigan, 6 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Holy Cross, 1 p.m.
Sept. 13: Bowie State, 1 p.m.
Sept. 20: vs. Howard (at MetLife Stadium), 4 p.m.
Sept. 27: at Norfolk State, 4 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Florida A&M, 5 p.m
Oct. 18: vs.North Carolina Central, 1 p.m.
Oct. 25: at Villanova, 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 1: at Hampton, 2 p.m.
Nov. 8: at North Carolina A&T, 1 p.m.
Nov. 15: vs. South Carolina State, 1 p.m.
Nov. 22: vs. Delaware State, 1 p.m.