Times are changing for freshman QBs

By: Harry King
Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Greenwood quarterback Connor Noland looks to throw during a game against Benton on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Benton.
Photo by Jimmy Jones
Greenwood quarterback Connor Noland looks to throw during a game against Benton on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Benton.

— As freshmen, Kevin Scanlon was trying to make North Carolina State’s travel squad, Quinn Grovey was memorizing his class schedule and the playbook and Bill Montgomery was not a factor because freshmen couldn’t participate in varsity football at the time.

My, how times have changed for first-year quarterbacks since Scanlon (1978-79), Grovey (1987-90) and Montgomery (1968-70) were successful at Arkansas.

These days, talents such as Connor Noland of Greenwood play immediately for a slew of reasons, including individual quarterback gurus, the proliferation of spread offenses in high school, 7-on-7 travel squads, elite camps and technology.

Unlike Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Noland did not enroll in college in January, but there is rationale to believe he will be comfortable in the new Chad Morris/Joe Craddock offense:

— Since junior high, Noland has been working with a quarterback coach in Arizona.

— In national competitions, he has gone against the best quarterbacks his age in the country.

— The Greenwood offense is very similar to what Morris and offensive coordinator Craddock ran at SMU.

— Making quick, on-field decisions is old hat for Noland.

“If we snapped it 70 times a game, Connor probably made 65 decisions,” Greenwood coach Rick Jones said.

Not only did Noland decide whether to keep it or give it, but also whether to run or pass. And, he has the right attitude — self-confident without being arrogant, according to Jones.

“Kids these days, they compete against, literally, the world,” said Jones, noting that his father grew up in Oklahoma facing off against athletes from a few nearby counties. “Quarterback schools are popping up all over the place.”

Cole Kelley — Arkansas’s No. 1 quarterback by default — Ty Storey, and others competing for the starting job will get firsthand exposure to the up-tempo spread in the spring, but Craddock has indicated there is no front-runner.

“We don’t want to judge our guys on the previous offense and a different look,” he said. “We really want to get in there and get our system implemented and see who really fits us the best.”

Grovey, Scanlon, and Montgomery — all of whom played against opponents ranked in the top three nationally — raved about Tagovailoa’s performance in the overtime victory over Georgia in the national championship game. They also mentioned the extended preparation, including early enrollment, of Tagovailoa and Fromm prior to their first fall on campus.

When Grovey arrived in Fayetteville just before the 1986 season, senior Greg Thomas was the returning starter and Grovey redshirted.

“Luckily, I wasn’t needed because I was not ready physically or mentally to step in and handle the demands of the quarterback position at the University of Arkansas … ,” Grovey admitted.

Scanlon, No. 7 on the depth chart early on and No. 2 during the season, gained confidence when he guided an 80-yard touchdown drive at Michigan State in his first college game, then had additional success against the Spartans and Indiana.

“After that, I knew I belonged, and had a lot of confidence that I could play successfully as a D1 college football QB,” he said. “Now, playing in a national championship game? That’s a whole different story.”

He suggested that Fromm’s confidence enabled him to perform well in his first start at Notre Dame.

As for inexperienced Tagovailoa taking over for Jalen Hurts in the second half of the CFP title game, he said, “That would have been like me getting thrown in a national championship game after the limited time I played my freshman year. Can’t imagine that!”

Addressing the success of first-year quarterbacks, both Scanlon and Montgomery cited the evolution of high school offenses.

“They all throw 30-40 times a game,” Scanlon said. “We threw 15-20, maybe. Also, these passing offenses are much easier to have success in, with three, four receivers. In high school when I played, we had mainly only two and maybe three receivers in patterns at some times.

“High percentage, quick decisions and reads. Give me some of that offense!”

Montgomery said he wished 7-on-7 had been available during his playing days. He also said he probably didn’t check off 10 times in his career, partly because the game plan was thoroughly prepared by Don Breaux.

“I suspect they have a lot more reads than what we would have had,” he said.

Montgomery recently talked spread while playing golf with Texas quarterback Shane Buechele and Buechele’s dad.

How many snaps have you taken under center in the years playing quarterback, Montgomery asked.

“None,” the young man said.

“He’s not alone in that,” Montgomery said.

He said he was “spellbound” watching Tagovailoa’s performance, but also paraphrased former Texas coach Darrell Royal’s, “If a dog’s gonna bite you, he’ll do it as a pup,” to support his opinion that experience is an overrated topic of discussion.

Along those same lines, Montgomery, who never lost to a Southwest Conference team other than Texas, said, “If it’s the same 18 guys I beat last year, I’m going to beat them again this year.”

Part of the Arkansas broadcast team, Grovey suggested the learning curve is shorter than ever for young quarterbacks because the exchange of knowledge between high school coaches and college coaches is a two-way street. He also noted the availability of football content on TV and social media platforms.

“Football is everywhere and available anytime you want it. Back in the day, the coaches’ film used to be where all of the knowledge was held … now you can go to YouTube and watch end zone cuts and all 22 cuts,” he said.

Scanlon also referenced watching 8mm or 16mm film of games from limited angles vs. the variety available today. He even tried a virtual reality version of 7-on-7.

“It is unbelievable how life-like and helpful that was,” he said.

Grovey also raved about Tagovailoa’s composure, noting Alabama trailed 13-0 when he entered the game, that the Crimson Tide immediately went three-and-out, and that Tagovailoa was sacked on the play before throwing the winning touchdown pass.

“When the camera showed face shots of Tua on the field after every play…. I was amazed how cool and calm he looked,” Grovey said. “Your eyes say a lot about your mindset during a game and his eyes said, ‘I’m ready…. This situation is not too big for me.’”

Based on ample preparation and Jones’ opinion, Noland’s attitude will be identical.

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