It’s time. QB Country’s 2019 season preview

 In College QB News, Featured News, Latest News

By David Morris, QB Country Founder

It’s time.

Time to do what you’ve dreamed about since you were a little kid.

The hay is in the barn, it’s time to go have fun playing football.

There’s nothing like the energy and anticipation around the start of a football season. It’s a feeling you can’t recreate.

It’s more than a feeling. It’s the scent, the hue of the late summer grass. It’s the heat, the humidity in the air. It’s your hands sweating before you’ve even taken a snap. It’s a quiet mind in the roar of the crowd.

It’s an adrenaline rush you’ll never forget, but always miss.

Setting the tone
At the beginning of the year, everybody’s slate is clean. Hope is alive. All your goals are still right in front of you. The first game establishes a lot about what you did in the offseason. It’s usually a strong indicator of what your focus has been the past few months.

Does playing smart matter to you?

Does the clock in your head work?

When they’re bringing four from the weakside, do you know how to protect yourself? Do you know where the quick answer is?

Do you believe so much that you won’t hesitate?

Are you prepared?

Jake Fromm throws against Notre Dame (Joshua Jones/Athens Banner-Herald)

The first game is a first sign of how prepared a quarterback is to play good football. When I think back on some memorable first starts, Jake Fromm’s performance as a true freshman at Notre Dame comes to mind. He was calm, confident and ready for what was an incredibly big moment. He wasn’t perfect, but he threw for 143 yards and a TD and the Bulldogs got the win. Talk about setting a tone — Jake has started every game since, persevering through everything that comes with being a quarterback at a top Power 5 program.

Getting that first career start is a big deal, but having the opportunity to start multiple first games is ultimately what you’re aiming for. One of the most interesting week one matchups in QB Country features a true freshman in UNC’s Sam Howell taking on South Carolina and veteran senior Jake Bentley (8/31 in Charlotte). These are two talented QBs at opposite ends of their college careers, but who still have a lot in common. Jake was once in Sam’s shoes. Jake earned the starting job at South Carolina as a true freshman and has kept it for four years. Sam will be aiming for the same type of career.

Finding focus (as a favorite or an underdog)
I love the poem, If, by Rudyard Kipling, because I think it speaks to consistency and how to handle something new or hard or different — or even how to celebrate and handle sustained success. It’s about having authentic confidence. Lots of relevant lines, but here are a few of my favorites:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…

Can you stay grounded? It’s tempting to get so caught up that you’ve finally arrived in the moment that you forget to be fully present for the task at hand. You want to soak it up, listen to the crowd, and say, “Wow, this is what I dreamed about.” Be grateful for the opportunity, but it’s equally important to snap out of it (quickly) and find your focus.

Kipling’s poem speaks to handling expectations as well.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

People make a living out of creating expectations, making predictions, and telling you what you’re capable of. The truth is that more often than not, they’re wrong. Not a single team ranked in last year’s AP preseason Top 25 poll finished the season where they began on the poll. Almost half of those teams dropped out of the poll completely.

Expectations aren’t real. If people think you’re a favorite or an underdog, a starter or a backup, it means nothing. It’s all just a distraction. I think there can be value to playing with a chip on your shoulder, but play with too much of a chip and you run the risk of prioritizing identity over preparation. At the end of the day, your job is to get better and make the people around you better. No one is really out to get you. Neither the “favorite” nor the “underdog” should pay a whole lot of attention to what others are saying.

Every QB has a story
I used to get very nervous around this time, worrying about the season and how our guys will perform. Now I just accept that there are going to be big, exciting moments and there are going to be moments when guys struggle. I think that’s what makes this position unique. I’ve said it before, but as a quarterback you’re always out there for the world to see in success and failure.

The reality of that, the vulnerability of that is just something that grows you up.

I can’t help but watch a game and think of the person behind the athlete, how they got to where they are and what they had to go through to get there. It’s easy to forget that each one of these kids has an important story — including (and maybe, especially) the backup quarterback.

The most important trait of a backup is optimism. Every quarterback was once a backup QB (as were all the guys listed below). Backups who know their role prepare like a starter every week. It’s fun to watch the backup on the sidelines. How engaged are they? Are they getting a mental rep on each play? Are they locked into the game plan? Are they in constant communication with the starter between drives? I’ve been there. I was a career 2nd stringer. I was the guy going into every game thinking “this is my game, this is my week.” Be ready for your moment, it’s coming.

Here are just a few of the stories of QB Country trainees (listed alphabetically with training location) that I’ll be watching closely in 2019. FBS starters mentioned below; FCS and D2 coming soon:

Jack Abraham (Photo by USM Athletics)

Jack Abraham/Southern Miss (QBC Mobile, QBC Jackson)
Jack was one of the best high school QBs to come out of Mississippi in a long time, but his college journey took turns and detours that he didn’t expect. A late recruit, he ended up at Louisiana Tech, struggled to find his groove, transferred to Northwest Juco and ended up back home at Southern Miss. Jack thrived in his sophomore season leading the country in completion percentage. I’d be surprised if someone other than Jack leads the country in completion percentage again this year.

Jake Bentley/South Carolina (QBC Mobile)
Jake’s improvement this offseason was dramatic. Mechanics, body control, sequencing, playing smart football…expect to see a sharp Bentley this year. We’re talking about a guy who threw for 500 yards against Clemson last year. I think he’ll take another leap in production in his final season as the Gamecocks’ quarterback.

Mike Beaudry/UConn (QBC Mobile)
It takes a dreamer to leave a D2 program that you led to a national championship game for a shot at playing D1 football. You put your name into a hat, hope someone gives you an opportunity and if they do, you still have to go win the job. That’s exactly what Mike did by transferring from West Florida. I remember having this conversation with Mike in January. Mike had always dreamed of playing D1 football. Fast forward six months and UConn just announced him as the week one starter. Live your dream, Mike!

Dan Ellington/Georgia State (QBC Nashville, QBC Atlanta)
Though his team struggled last year, Dan quietly put together an impressive 2018 season, finishing among the top 50 Division 1 quarterbacks in total offense and earning All-Sun Belt honorable mention. If he has time to make plays, watch out. Dan has the leadership skills, confidence and experience to take the Panthers to a new level this season.

Jake Fromm/Georgia (QBC Mobile)
Jake beat out the #1 QB recruit in the country on two separate occasions. That tells you what he’s made of. I think Jake is a Drew Brees-type talent, competitor and leader. This year though, Jake has a new challenge: getting his young receivers to play beyond their experience level. I’m excited to see him overcome another obstacle. That’s what the great ones do.

Collin Hill/Colorado State (QBC Mobile)
Collin is another powerful story of perseverance and grit and I’m excited that the country will have a chance to see him play. He’s overcome two ACL surgeries in the last few years, is finally healthy and has worked very hard this offseason. He is throwing the ball as well as anyone, anywhere. I have a feeling Collin is someone the country will be buzzing about this season.

Cephus Johnson (Photo by USA Athletics)

Sam Howell/UNC (QBC North Carolina)
Having the opportunity to start as a true freshman is unique and Sam will learn to sink or swim quickly, opening up in an interstate rivalry game in Charlotte against South Carolina. Sam is a confident leader that will flash some Baker Mayfield moments. There will be ups and downs for sure, but there’s a reason he’s a week one starter in the ACC. The kid can play.

Cephus Johnson/South Alabama (QBC Mobile)
Cephus is a late bloomer at the quarterback position who didn’t start until his senior year at Davidson High School. He’s now the new face of the South Alabama Jaguars. With a Cam Newton-type frame and skill set, Cephus and the Jags offense will be fun to watch.

Tyler Johnston/UAB (QBC Birmingham, QBC Mobile)
Tyler never lost a game in high school and was Mr. Football in Alabama, but didn’t have a single offer other than from a UAB program that had been shut down for two years. Last year, Tyler replaced an injured starter and led the Blazers to an improbable C-USA championship and a Boca Raton Bowl victory. Now he’s the Day 1 starter and the resurgent Blazers are firmly his team. Expect the winning to continue in Birmingham.

Kaleb Barker/Troy (QBC Birmingham)
Kaleb is back after a knee injury sidelined him for seven games last year. Before he went down, he was ranked among the top quarterbacks in college football. He’s been through challenges like this before, having overcome an injury during his junior year of high school to have a big senior year. I’m excited to see him get back on the field.

Austin Kendall/West Virginia (QBC North Carolina)
There are big QB shoes to fill at WVU with Will Grier moving on to the NFL. Austin is the kind of understated leader that teammates and new coach Neal Brown (who arrives from Troy) will rally around. He transferred from Oklahoma after backing up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray over the last two years. He knows what the spotlight looks like and has the demeanor and skills to succeed in it. By the way, Neal Brown always has his QBs ready.

Matt McKay/NC State (QBC North Carolina)
Matt won a tight QB competition at NC State with his accuracy, leadership and IQ. Decision-making is huge as a quarterback. Matt showed this offseason that he can take care of the football and make consistently good decisions. That’s the kind of play that gives teams a chance to win. It certainly worked out for the quarterback Matt is replacing in Ryan Finley.

Zac Thomas/Appalachian State (QBC Birmingham)
Coming off a monster sophomore year in which he was named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, it will be interesting to see how defenses adjust to Zac’s skills and athleticism. I expect similar results in 2019. Zac also has the distinction of facing five other QB Country-trained QBs this season as App State plays UNC, South Carolina, Troy, Georgia State and South Alabama. It’ll make for some fun, but conflicted viewing for our staff!

I know this is a special time for all of our guys, at all levels, and a time that in many ways is unlike anything that comes before or after. The start of the season represents memories to be made, life lessons, friendships — there’s so much that goes into playing this game. Being able to watch these guys live their dreams is an incredible privilege. It’s something my staff and I will never forget or take for granted.

Playing quarterback is a great honor and responsibility. Respect the opportunity and make the most of it!