By Alexander Haynes
The competition at spring training camp, summer training camp, and all those moments in between has been palpable. Although the weather in San Marcos remains upward of 100 degrees on the Monday before the Texas State Bobcats take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the competitive atmosphere in the football complex had a weather system to call its own. At the same time, competition was breeding the grounds for teamwork. In the words of Head Coach Everett Withers, “We grew closer than any group I have been with.” Through all 20 minutes of his Monday morning press conference, Coach Withers was smiling, energetic, and most of all, eager to see the 2018 iteration of Bobcat football take the field to punctuate their competitive training camp.
Willie Jones III Named Starting Quarterback
If competition defined the entire team, then it would be hard to find a term to describe the dedicated ambition seen from the quarterbacks. Fifteen minutes before the press conference began, the official Bobcat Football Twitter announced that true sophomore Willie Jones III would be leading the team as quarterback. Coach Withers stated the final decision was made only that morning. The leading question at the press conference was naturally regarding what separated Jones from freshman quarterbacks D.J. Bolger and Tyler Vitt – the impending answer was also the natural separation between a freshman and sophomore: game reps.
“With his [Jones] knowledge of what we do from game reps, he has really grown from January to today not only as a football player, but as a person,” Withers said. “I think he has taken some steps where the football team really trusts him in that leadership role.”
That excitement is not exclusive to Jones; overall, Coach Withers is excited about being able to develop all of the quarterbacks on the roster.
“I am really excited to develop a sophomore with a lot of upside. Really all of our quarterbacks have a lot of upside. I think there will always be a battle for quarterback, which is good,” Withers said. “When he goes to work, he always knows he has a guy nipping at his heels. It really helps to have youth. The problems we may have a year from now may be good problems.”
Time will tell how Jones progresses. As a true sophomore, there will be inevitable mistakes. As Coach Withers said, Jones must learn to rely on his teammates to make plays. However, that inevitable explosive play style has created bountiful results in camp, implicating the tangible and leadership dynamic Jones can bring to game day.
The Starting 22
With competition being Coach Withers’ main talking point, the starting depth chart will not be released until Wednesday. The delayed release of the depth chart may be hinting at some surprises, specifically at wide receiver, coaches leading example of competition. Across the board Coach Withers observed, “We have had more competition this training camp than any other point since I have been here”.
While the offensive line depth may not be set, surprises may appear there too on Wednesday. Several unnamed players were stated as having clearly progressed from spring, summer, and fall. Offensive line congruency will be a leading story line for success, and health, throughout the season. With Jones’ dynamic style of attacking defenses, a spread offense, and a young offense leading the way, the tone can be set up front.
If youth development is a “good problem” at quarterback, the same could be said of the offensive line. Only David Tachie returns as a senior, joined by 12 freshmen to grow and make congruency a staple definition of Bobcat football.
As the quarterback grows, so grows the offensive line.
Part of the training camp competition has been partial to the health of the team, receiving praise for being, “healthy as they have been since I [Coach Withers] have been here.” The offensive line was a major shuffling piece last season, being consistently interchanged and leading to a proverbial revolving door. Furthermore, the new 8:15 a.m. practice time should be a further mitigation tool for injuries in the season.
With the traditional evening practice, some players would get only one full day of practice a week or show up to evening practice with “wobbly knees” from sitting in top classes all day (last season the Bobcats had 106 players with a minimum 3.0 GPA). The new morning practices allow the football team to be “true student athletes” able to split their roles, and hopefully, will lead to better mental and physical health.
A Short Look Ahead to Defense and Rutgers
If competition filled the air throughout summer, anticipation and preparation were the theme moving forward into the game against Rutgers. With John McNulty taking over as the Scarlet Knights’ offensive coordinator and freshman Artur Sitkowski being named the starting quarterback, the Bobcats defense will be observing unprecedented offensive movements. Granted, in addition to “Don’t give up big plays, leverage, tackle well,” Coach Withers has some ingenuity up his sleeve with the secondary.
Withers spoke highly of junior JaShon Waddy taking his move to safety in stride, adding a “athletic feel” to the defense. In addition to Waddy, sophomore Kordell Rodgers, senior A.J. Krawczyk (also recently named a team captain), and junior Anthony J. Taylor received call outs for leading the defensive back end. One point Coach Withers hopes is punctuated against Rutgers is the mental acuity found in the secondary, stating, “We are also football smarter than any time I have been here.”
There may still be another week of game preparation to endure before facing Rutgers, but that simple point of football acuity and youthful energy could lead the Bobcats to taking their third consecutive opening game victory.
Featured image via Texas State Athletics.