Filling Borel’s shoes a three-man arms race through spring
The order is a tall one for the three players wearing red jerseys during football practices this spring. The job? Replace the player who is No. 2 in Utah State history in total offense, career passing yards and completions. The player who threw more touchdown passes than all but three other Aggies in history. The player who, despite being a quarterback, stands at No. 15 in USU history in career rushing yards.
On top of filling the shoes of former quarterback Diondre Borel comes the task of dealing with the pressure and expectations for a season which everybody at Utah State hopes will see its first visit to a bowl game in nearly a decade-and-a-half.
Enter the trio of Adam Kennedy, Jeremy Higgins and Alex Hart.
One is a highly touted junior college transfer brought in with the intention of immediately competing for the starting job, another was last season's backup quarterback, seeing only limited action throughout the year, and the other spent last fall as a redshirt player a year after shattering a handful of passing records in the State of Utah.
All three entered this spring on equal ground competing for the starting quarterback position when Utah State takes the field against the defending national champion Auburn Tigers Sept. 3.
Despite third-year head coach Gary Andersen hoping to name a starter by the end of spring practices, as of a Monday scrimmage, that no longer appears to be an option.
"It's still wide open," Andersen said of the quarterback race. "I don't really forsee that taking place as we go through spring football."
That lack of certainty isn't all too bad of a thing though as the competition will remain heated long after the team wraps up spring football practices this weekend. And according to offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin, the indecision appears to be due more to more players excelling with their play rather than a failure for one to stand out.
"It's been a real good spring," Baldwin said. "It's hard to evaluate three at the same time, to give three reps and yet I think all three have progressed and done some really nice things."
One of the changes to the quarterback position this year will be running much more of the offense from under-center rather than out of shotgun formations. Rather than hope for plays made by the quarterback on his feet like USU has seen the past three years from Borel, Baldwin is hoping for a player who is able to take care of the ball and minimize mistakes while distributing the ball around to any of the other myriad of weapons at Baldwin's disposal.
"Sometimes it's the quarterback that takes care of the ball rather than makes the big play," Baldwin said. "If you take care of it and we can hand off to (Robert) Turbin and Joe Hill and Kerwynn (Williams), and then play some catch, we're in good shape. Everybody thinks quarterback is about arm strength and you can throw and all those things. Quarterback is about leadership, directing an offense and doing the right thing."
With only one player out of the three having ever taken a snap at the Division-I level, breaking in a new quarterback to a team loaded with veteran playmakers on offense has been a work in progress throughout the spring for another member of the team who is doing some breaking in of his own, new quarterbacks coach Matt Wells.
"I think we've progressed each day in different areas, and a lot of times, not as fast as I'd like," Wells said. "I think we've gotten better in knowing the offense, knowing our protections, knowing where our reads are, where the ball goes and then again we're learning how to practice and having a sense of urgency."
That sense of urgency is one thing Kennedy said has been a challenge that can allow one guy to stand out during certain drills in practice.
"I think you can see it during the two-minute drill," Kennedy said. "Two-minute drill is where people get exposed because it's quick. Either you know what you're doing or you don't. There's no time to turn around and ask coaches or ask your teammates what happens."
Kennedy, a junior college transfer from San Joaquin Delta College in California, took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback during Monday's scrimmage. He comes to Utah State a year after completing 65 percent of his passes for 1,767 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to earning team MVP honors along with being named first-team all-Valley Conference.
Next in line under center was Hart, a redshirt freshman who was beat out for backup duties to Borel last fall by Higgins. Hart's high school career was about as decorated as any other quarterback to ever play in the State of Utah. During his senior year at Jordan High School in Sandy, Hart set single season records in passing yards and completions for the State of Utah, while throwing 46 touchdowns, the second best single-season total ever. His average of more than 370 passing yards per game as a senior shattered the previous record by more than 50 yards per game. Hart also tied a national record by once throwing eight touchdowns in a single half of football.
The odd man out of what Baldwin said has become now a two-man race was Higgins, the lone player of the three quarterbacks who has taken the field for Utah State. Higgins completed 4-of-6 passes for 22 yards in two games of action.
However the depth chart may read at this point, the battle is ongoing, and it's one that Hart believes is more of each player trying to improve their own play for the sake of the team rather than just to best their competition at quarterback.12
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