Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quarterback battle highlights start of spring ball at Tarleton

Sports Editor

Like any college football team entering spring ball, Tarleton State has a number of question marks.

None are bigger than quarterback.

Scott Grantham spent three seasons becoming one of the most prolific passers in school history for the Texans, helping them to a share of the Lone Star Conference championship and the program's third 10-win season last fall.

But Grantham, who overcame a brain condition early in his career and has already earned a bachelor's degree, announced just after the season ended that he plans to forgo his final season of eligibility.

That leaves a void that must be filled, and new head coach Cary Fowler says the Texans have players on campus capable of doing just that - he just isn't certain who it will be that steps up when spring ball gets under way Monday.

"All of these kids are athletic and they can all run. We're going to use that to our advantage," said Fowler of the five-man competition.

Aaron Doyle redshirted last fall after completing a stellar career at Class A Evant.
Doyle, who was originally planning to go to Oklahoma State and also considered Tulsa and Baylor, among others, had a hand in more than 3,700 yards of offense and 46 touchdowns as a dual-threat signal caller his senior year. He was a district MVP and first-team all-state honoree on offense while also registering an impressive 178 tackles as a linebacker.

Many prognosticators thought defense would be Doyle's home at Oklahoma State, but Fowler is convinced the freshman can play quarterback at the college level.

"He's got the ability to be a Tim Tebow-type of quarterback at our level," Fowler said. "He's good enough athletically that we'll find a way for him to contribute even if he isn't our starting quarterback."

Fowler said Doyle impressed coaches in several areas last fall, but he suffered an injury just before the season began.

"We look out there in two-a-days and he's the first one down the field knocking guys out on special teams," Fowler said. "He was going to start on every special teams unit we had until he broke his hand before the first game."

Competing with Doyle for the starting position are Casey Page, Jackson Crawley and Jake Fenske. Defensive back Blair Johnson, who played quarterback in high school, could also enter the fold.

Page, who has been buried on the depth chart behind Grantham and Stephenville native Kelan Luker, will be a junior next fall. In high school, Page earned district MVP and second-team all-state honors while directing 4A Hereford to an average of 38 points per game. He recorded more than 9,000 yards of total offense in his high school career.

"Casey is a great kid and a great leader, all of these guys have those characteristics," Fowler said. "The advantage Casey has is he's been around the longest and he knows our system inside and out. We'll change some things, but he should still have a leg up on everybody else as far as experience."

Crawley, a left-handed passer, redshirted last fall. He was a TAPPS standout at Dallas First Baptist Academy before playing for Dallas Woodrow Wilson as a senior. Crawley drew recruiting attention from the likes of Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, UTEP and Louisiana Tech.

Fenske, who will be a sophomore, passed for 3,800 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at 5A Round Rock McNeil.

And then there's Johnson, who may be the wild card in the equation.

Johnson, also a sophomore-to-be, was late in drawing attention from recruiters because he didn't start until his senior year at North Mesquite. Once he took the reigns, however, he wasted no time solidifying himself as the right guy for the job at the 5A school.

Johnson earned praise from the Dallas Morning News after passing for 1,400 yards and rushing for almost 300 more in the first six games of his senior season.

"Blair's just a great athlete who refuses to lose," Fowler said. "I'd really like him to play free safety, but I'm not afraid to see what he's got at quarterback. I know he's got the ability to play a lot of positions."

Johnson made eight tackles including one for loss in limited action in the Tarleton secondary last fall.

Fowler says even when a starter is named from the group of five quarterbacks, there will still be competition with players new to campus when two-a-days begin in August. He also says he isn't against having two quarterbacks take snaps in games next fall.

"I'm a fan of having two quarterbacks. That doesn't mean we will platoon them, we'll have one full-time starter who is our leader, but I want us to have the option of throwing a change-up in there three or four possessions each game," Fowler said.

Both quarterbacks may very well come from the aforementioned group of five. But one may also come from a group of high school recruits Fowler is excited to welcome to campus this fall, including Borger's Trenton Kirklin and Liberty's Jeremy Dickey.

"Those guys are labeled as athletes but they both played quarterback in high school and both of them have a lot of talent," Fowler said. "They will both be able to help us in a lot of ways."

Whatever happens at the quarterback position, Fowler promises to have an offense in place that can adapt to the signal caller's strengths.

"We're going to be flexible enough offensively to cater to the needs of our quarterback," he said. "Whoever it ends up being."

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