There’s an elephant in the football locker room, and head coach Jim McElwain is completely content to leave it there. As of Friday, he still has not announced who will be his main man under center.
With the season opener fast-approaching, the battle for starting glory is still a three-man race.
As fall camp wore on, instead of narrowing down the list of possible starters, McElwain added freshman Nick Stevens into the already warring duo of junior Garrett Grayson and sophomore Conner Smith.
Grayson began the 2012 season as a starter for the Rams, but was forced to give the job up at the end of September due to a broken collarbone. Grayson went 1-4 as a starter, but threw only two interceptions and seven touchdowns.
His predecessor, then-freshman Conner Smith, went 3-4 as a starter, threw six touchdowns and racked up 1,022 yards passing.
Though both Smith, Grayson and now Stevens are pushing hard for the starting position, they remain teammates, regardless of who wins the job.
“I think any competitor would be mad about it,” Grayson said of losing the starting position. “But if it does come out that way, I’m going to support them, like I’d hope they’d support me. I’m going to be the best teammate I can be regardless.”
Smith would rather forget about the competition entirely and focus on his game. He views the endless speculation and questions as pinpricks of distraction, spanning across the summer.
“I’m not worried about when the starter is going to be named, I’m just tying to come to practice everyday doing the best I can,” Smith said. “You can’t worry about all that kind of stuff, you just gotta do your thing.”
As far as the newcomer to the competition, Stevens has been stirring up notice not only among his coaches, but among his peers as well.
The freshman out of Murrieta, Calif., led his team to a 27-1 record over the course of two seasons, and holds a number of records at the school. On top of that, he is smart.
“He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever been around—I think he got like a 4.2 something GPA in high school, and he picked up the offense real quick,” Grayson said. “I was working with him this summer and there were things he was picking up that just showed how bright he is as a kid.”
All three quarterback hopefuls have worked hard enough to gain support from their team; nobody feels the need to pick just one.
“Each quarterback is capable of going out there and executing a game plan,” sophomore running back Donnell Alexander said. “I’ve played with Garrett, I’ve played with Conner, and I’m experiencing Nick now, and I feel like they’re all capable of performing, that’s really all it’s about.”
With the first game of the season against the team’s biggest rival, whoever is anointed as starter will get all the glory should they win, and much of the blame if they lose: something their coach does not agree with.
“That guy behind center, I know how important it is, I get it,” McElwain said. “But the guys around him, they make a play. Whoever is out there, I’m 100 percent behind; they’ve got my full trust.”
Football Beat Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.