A quick examination of the 2017 South Carolina State projected preseason football roster finds six quarterbacks listed.
Missing from that group are the two signal-callers who shared the quarterbacking duties on the 2016 team. Adrian Kollock Jr. completed his studies and playing eligibility and the once-promising Caleb York (1,116 passing yards in 2016) transferred to play at Campbell University.
That leaves Bulldog head coach Buddy Pough and his staff having to rely mostly on a youthful group of quarterbacks in 2017. The group has promise and loads of talent, but little game experience. That could prove to be big in a conference that has become more and more reliant on a top performer behind center.
The Bulldog quarterback logjam most likely signals a fierce preseason battle to win the position and lead S.C. State on the field September 3 against Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
Leading the pack are converted wide receiver Mykal Moody (5-10, 185 r-Sr., Conway) who started the season finale at quarterback – almost as an experiment – and was impressive in directing a 28-7 win over Bethune-Cookman, Dewann Ford (6-2, 180 r-Soph., Stephenson, GA), Marquane Goodman (6-1, 200 r-Soph., Florence), and 2017 recruit Tyrece Nick (6-0, 170 Fr., Johnston). The list also includes two other freshmen in Bobby Gentile (5-10, 170, Mullins) and Duane Nichols (6-0, 190, Hamer), who was signed as a defensive back but may be given a chance to compete at quarterback.
“It will be interesting to see how these guys battle through the depth chart,” said Pough. “It’s likely we will take a good, hard look at the top three early, and they will be the ones who get most of the reps, while the others will handle the scout team duties.
“And as we go deeper into our preparations, we generally will have just two guys working with the team we hope to put on the field. We will be looking for consistency from our quarterbacks and seeking a guy who can make plays. You need a playmaker at quarterback.”
Ford emerged from spring drills number one on the depth chart at quarterback, according to Pough. He has very limited game action, but owns the most experience among the group. In seven appearances in 2016, his stats as a passer – 8 of 18 for 88 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions – were not overly impressive. But his performance in the spring, including the annual Garnet and Blue Game (3-3 completions for 67 yards and a 3-yard touchdown run), earned him a slight edge.
Moody surprised the staff by his performance in the Bethune-Cookman game. The Bulldog wide receiver, who had missed most of the campaign after sustaining an early-season injury against Clemson, was impressive in his only start at quarterback for S.C, State. Most of his success came on the ground, but he did complete a touchdown pass in the 28-7 victory. He amassed 321 yards of total offense, rushing 21 times for 321 yards and three touchdowns, while completing a 29-yard scoring pass for a fourth score. Moody also had a good spring game, rushing four times for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Goodman, who ran the scout team last fall and also spent time playing tight end, is the third quarterback on the depth chart entering fall workouts. He’s more comfortable now at the signal-calling position and should be in the mix for the starting duties.
Pough has his thoughts on the top three contenders:
“Ford has emerged as the top guy,” Pough said. “He has the most game experience; he has demonstrated balance and maturity. He has good speed, throws the ball well and has overall outstanding athleticism… and he’s a good character guy. He was a bright spot in the spring and proved that he can run the offense.
“Moody, it goes without saying, surprised us with his performance in the Bethune-Cookman win," Pough said. "He proved that he can be a playmaker. He is a special athlete, an outstanding runner and not a bad passer. He is the kind of player that puts a lot of pressure on a defense and makes you match-up to or adjust to his skills. I see us using him a bunch.
“As for Goodman, he wants to play quarterback," Pough said. "He had a much better spring than we anticipated. He exceeded expectations and has come on to show a lot of promise. He appears to be comfortable at the position and we are confident he can provide depth at quarterback.”
Nick has the talent to challenge the trio listed ahead of him, but it has been rare the occasions that a freshman has been at the throttle at quarterback for S.C. State. Think Marvin Marshall, Malcolm Long and mostly recently York, who stepped in when Kollock went down early in the season in 2015.
Nick, who amassed a sparkling prep resume in guiding Strom Thurmond High to 17 wins against seven losses his final two seasons, will get his chance at some point. In his final two seasons, the North-South All-Star and SC/GA Border Bowl selection completed 200 of 326 passes for 2635 yards and 29 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. Nick is likely the Bulldog quarterback of the future, according to Pough, but has the talent to climb the current depth chart.
As for Gentile and Nichols, their roles have most probably been decided. Gentile has emerged as the holder on PATs and field goals, while Nichols, once he sees the logjam at quarterback this fall, will probably line up at defensive back after all.
The final observation: Both Pough and Danny Lewis (who resumes his duties as quarterbacks coach after coaching running backs last season) are confident that whoever emerges from this year’s quarterback derby will be able to put the Bulldogs in a position to win. At least that is the game plan.
Next week, we will take a look at the Bulldog running backs and receivers!
Bill Hamilton retired as sports information director at S.C. State after nearly four decades in the post. He is a member of the MEAC Hall of Fame and the recipient of numerous other honors for his service to the university and journalism. He reports on S.C. State as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.