The race to the top of the quarterbacking ladder is one that does not seem to be as vicious in Portland as one may think.
The race to the top of the quarterbacking ladder is one that does not seem to be as vicious in Portland as one may think. Although three talented senior quarterbacks fill the depth chart, all remain equally humble when it comes down to what is most important for the team—winning games.
The depth at quarterback not only creates opportunity for competition, but also gives head coach Nigel Burton plenty of options to go with in case of injury—something Portland State football is all too familiar with in recent memory. The injuries have been a rough patch in the Viks’ progression the last two seasons, as the two quarterbacks that started their respective seasons were not able to finish them due to season ending injuries.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Connor Kavanaugh, played in eight games before going down with a hand injury that required season-ending surgery. Kavanaugh showed a vast amount of potential in his eight starts during the 2010–11 season, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing for 1,109 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 506 yards and four touchdowns in his time under center.
While it may seem that Kavanaugh would be the greatest threat to take over the starting spot at quarterback with stats like his, coach Burton pointed out that experience was not the only factor in his choice, and that the decision will simply come down to who produces the results.
“In the end, it comes down to making those throws,” Burton said. “In the end you have to get a guy…that gets the guys around them to play better than they could by themselves. All you really have to do is get us 10 yards, just get us a first down.”
The other name that is re-emerging in the Viks’ football spring training is that of senior Drew Hubel. Hubel sat out last season after dealing with shoulder problems, but spent most of his first three seasons with the Viks as starting quarterback. Hubel is still easing his way back into throwing at full strength, but has more experience starting than anyone else at the quarterback position. The only problem for Hubel will be brushing off the cobwebs and jumping back into action in the new pistol-style offense. However, the change and time away does not seem to detract from the senior’s confidence.
“My arm is definitely not back up to college throwing level yet, but I am able to complete the 10–15 yard routes right now and am working my way back up,” Hubel said. “[In regards to the pistol offense] I think there is a misconception about the different kinds of offenses. I know the game and if you have that knowledge and the throwing ability, then you should be fine.”
With both returning quarterbacks feeling confident, one would think that there would be a certain amount of tension when it comes to talking around who will end up getting that starting spot. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, as each player hasn’t hesitated to put the team first.
“I think competition at every position is important,” Kavanaugh said without hesitating. “We all know that we are trying to be the best team that we can be, and that means putting the best quarterback on the field. Everything is positive and everything is for the good of the team.”
While some dirt or drama would make for a compelling story, both Kavanaugh and Hubel stressed the importance of being a family and being united as a team rather than singling out other players.
This season the team has been approaching the field every day with a new level of excitement as players are buying into the coach’s formation schemes and are more comfortable around one another. New players have seamlessly fit into the practice squad and are making some noise.
The third and final senior quarterback, Justin Engstrom, has been with the Portland state football program since 2009, getting five starts that season after Drew Hubel went down with a shoulder injury. Engstrom started as the backup to Kavanaugh during the 2010 season, but ultimately stepped aside for senior Tygue Howland, who won the starting job and finished out the rest of the season.
Three hungry senior quarterbacks, all having seen good chunks of time on the field, seems like more than enough competition, but there is still a dark horse in the race—freshman Josh Milhollin, a player who has not seen time starting on the field just yet but has managed to put up impressive numbers as a two-year starting quarterback for South Medford high school. Coach Burton saw signs of potential in his freshman quarterback and even had some kind words for the player as well as some things to build on.
“Milhollon is doing what freshmen do—they make goofy mistakes, but in terms of physical ability, he is probably the most blessed of all of the quarterbacks,” said Burton. “It’s going to be an interesting competition, especially once Drew gets more in the mix.”
None of the quarterbacks have been given any type of guarantee yet, but all four will have an opportunity to show their potential in the spring game being held at Lincoln High School on May 7. Overall the team’s sense of unity has been impressive, and when injury is always in the back of your mind it’s good to know that there are three others with potential waiting for their chance to step up. ?
Creating a sense of family:
The first few weeks of spring practice have created an electric feeling in the air. Players on both sides of the ball were joking with each other as well as helping others out, and the enthusiasm from the team has been evident. Small things are making the difference in creating a stronger team. The success is partially due to the bonds that have formed as players return and become more comfortable in their roles.
Also, coaches are also stepping in to make the practices more competitive and enjoyable. This past Monday, the defensive coaches (as well as head coach Nigel Burton) followed through with a promised bet they had made to their players. The bet entailed having the coaches run sprints if the defense could create four turnovers during drills. Thanks mainly in part to Deshawn Shead’s two interceptions, the defense made it happen, and sure enough the coaches made good on their deal. It wasn’t the quickest of sprints, but still provided great motivation for an improving defense as well as great entertainment for anyone in attendance.