When Butch Jones became the head football coach at Central Michigan, he didn't have to worry about finding a quarterback. Dan LeFevour led the Chippewas to a MAC title the previous year as a redshirt freshman, and Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian helped him develop into the only quarterback in NCAA history with more than 12,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards.
When Jones left CMU for Cincinnati, he inherited quarterback Zach Collaros who had excelled in limited action the previous year as a back-up to the injured Tony Pike. Under Jones and Bajakian, Collaros earned All-Big East honors in his two seasons as the Bearcats' starter.
That got me thinking. As Jones prepares for his sixth season as a college head coach, is this the first time that he's held spring practice without knowing who his starting quarterback is going to be?
"That's a great question and you're the first person that has asked me that," said Jones. "The answer is yes. We've always had competition, but you kind of knew who the guy was going to be. I think it makes for an exciting and extremely competitive spring."
When I attended practice this week, junior Munchie Legaux took most of the first team snaps at quarterback, but Jones says the position is up for grabs.
"Right now, Munchie is
number one and I would say that Brendon Kay is 1-A," said Jones. "Both
of those individuals are doing well and competing while helping each other out. We're bringing Patrick Coyne along as well,
and you can see him starting to grow each and every day. I've
been encouraged by all of our quarterbacks, but it's still the little things,
the small details - taking care of the football in the red zone, not making
catastrophic mistakes - that's what it's all about."
The favorite to win the job would seem to be Legaux for the simple reason that he is the only candidate who has started a college game. The Louisiana native replaced an injured Collaros in the second quarter of the West Virginia game and nearly led the Bearcats to a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Then after struggling in his first start - a 20-3 loss at Rutgers - Legaux guided the Bearcats to back-to-back victories to end the regular season.
"The encouraging thing about Munchie is the game-speed reps that he received," said Jones. "On top of that, he had to play in meaningful games last year, and the mark of a great quarterback is leading their team to victory on the road in a hostile environment. He did that at Syracuse in a must-win situation against a very physical football team who dominated us the year before. Then he came home in a must-win situation to earn a league championship against UConn."
"Being the number two guy last year, Coach Jones would always tell me that you never know when your number is going to be called and when it's called you have to respond," said Legaux. "In that West Virginia game it was called. I felt like I was prepared, but I wasn't ready. I knew the offense and things like that, but when I went in, things didn't flow the way they were supposed to."
Legaux looked very comfortable at the practice that I attended this week, completing most of his intermediate passes and breaking off a couple of long runs.
"He adds another dimension to the offense," said safety Drew Frey. "It's hard as a defensive back and you really have to be on your game because when they do zone-reads, is it a run by the running back or is a zone keep with the quarterback? That element of surprise is going to add a lot to our offense because Munchie is not slow by any means. He's an athlete and he's shown that he has definitely worked on his throwing ability as well. I'm excited to get the ball rolling."
"There are so many things that he brings to the table offensively," said Coach Jones. "You can really be creative with him and put stress on the defense."
Since Legaux played wide receiver as a freshman, he's working hard at mastering the offense in his second season as a quarterback.
"I'm trying to learn the playbook inside and out, knowing the intentions of Coach Bajakian - why he's calling certain plays, what he's trying to get accomplished," said Legaux. "Not turning the ball over, leading my team to victories. Just being 'that guy.' Being the leader on offense."
Leadership ability is a key element that Coach Jones will consider when choosing his next starting quarterback.
"We have some tapes of Trent Dilfer on what it is to be a quarterback that they listen to," said Jones. "You have to be the alpha male. You have to be the guy that's in control when you walk in the room. You're their leader. It can be overwhelming at times, but I think that all three of the quarterbacks are embracing the expectation that comes with that position."
"Coach Jones preaches to us every day that leadership is not a sometimes thing - it's an all the time thing," said Legaux. "Every day you have to wake up with your mind set on how you're going to lead your team today. I wake up saying that I'm going to have a great practice. If the quarterback is down, then everybody is down. I try to have energy every day and when people are down at practice, I try my best to pick them up. That's a leader."
Does Legaux consider himself to be the front-runner in the battle to win the position?
"Yes, but you don't want to get too comfortable because somebody is always out there to take your spot," Munchie told me. "I don't want to get too relaxed, because the guys behind me are good. You never know, they might have a great day and I might have a bad day and the tables could turn. So I want to come out here every day with the mentality that I'm going to be the leader and it's going to be my team.
"I'm ready. I wish the first game was tomorrow."
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