When it comes to naming a starting quarterback to replace new New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson at BYU, head coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick refuse to be rushed.
That was the message delivered by the offense’s two primary decision-makers Thursday as the Cougars held their annual football media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building.
In other words, there’s no deadline for deciding whether redshirt sophomores Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall or freshman Jacob Conover will get the call when BYU faces Arizona on Sept. 4 in Las Vegas, a neutral-site event that has already sold 42,000 tickets and is expected to draw the biggest gathering of BYU fans outside the state of Utah in program history.
To nobody’s surprise, the coaches gave no hint over six-plus hours of formal interviews and casual chats as to which quarterback, if any, in the derby broke out of the pack during spring camp last March. Nor did the QBs themselves.
Reading between the lines a bit, perhaps Roderick gave the closest thing to a hint when he said several times, including in a show on BYUtv, that Hall played the position flawlessly in the first half against Utah State in 2019 before sustaining a concussion that effectively ended his season.
“If he is able to stay healthy, he is going to be tough to beat out,” Roderick said.
Told of that positive endorsement a few hours later, Hall said it was “cool” to hear that but nothing could, or should, be read into it.
“Regardless of what anybody says, until that decision is made, you gotta keep grinding,” Hall said. “So for me, I am going to keep on grinding and doing my thing and just hope for the best when that day comes that they decide.”
When will that day come?
“I don’t want to be nailed down to it,” Roderick said. “I am not going to be pinned down to an exact date.”
Said Sitake: “I don’t know if I want to put a deadline on it because I think that creates a lot of stress and anxiety on the staff more than it does on the players. I know that the only real deadline is before the game, right? We need to have a starter before the game, however long it takes.”
Another freshman quarterback who participated in spring camp, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, is still working with the QBs, but is no longer in the running to be the starter, as the Deseret News reported earlier this month.
“The other three guys are just ahead of him,” Roderick said.
Both Sitake and Roderick said getting a starter in place sooner than later is ideal, but not as necessary as one might think because the competition is close and all three know the playbook and the offense well.
“Everyone would want to say the sooner the better, but I don’t think we can put a deadline on it, because then it is not going to be as fair as it possibly can,” Sitake said. “I wish I could answer the question now. If you (need an answer) now, I could tell you it is going to be one of the three.”
Hall and Romney both said they were not told of any decision or even a pecking order in meetings with coaches directly after spring camp ended on March 26, but they were told the competition would pick up again when preseason training camp opens on Aug. 5.
“They are being consistent,” Hall said. “They’ve said that decision is going to be made in fall camp unless there is a huge difference in how guys are doing. It was very close. It is just a matter of doing what we need to do personally and improve from then until now.”
Said Romney regarding their post-spring discussions with coaches: “They said it is still an open competition, still very close, and fall camp will tell the tale.”
Speaking of which, Roderick said he would like to have a decision made around two weeks into fall camp, “which would be enough time to be fair to those guys, and also would give us enough time to … let the starter get enough reps to be ready for that first game.”
There’s also the stream of thought that not naming a starter until just before kickoff might give BYU a strategic advantage, especially because Arizona has a new coaching staff and the Cougars are unsure about a lot more than just the QB when it comes to gauging the Wildcats’ personnel and tactics.
“We might not say who is starting (for BYU) until kickoff. Because why would we?,” Roderick said, rhetorically. “It might not seem like a huge deal, but if we can make our opponent keep guessing, we should. … I hope people aren’t mad about that, but we are just looking for every advantage we can to win that first game.”
Roderick says he learned that tactic from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Every single advantage you can possibly get, you might as well go for it,” Roderick said. “That was (Whittingham’s philosophy). The margin of error can be so small. Why would you give up anything you don’t have to? So I hope people understand that.”
There could also be some concern that whichever quarterbacks aren’t picked will enter the transfer portal, especially now that they can make a one-time transfer to another school and be immediately eligible under the NCAA’s new transfer rules.
Sitake and Roderick both said that’s probably not as much of a worry at BYU as it is at other programs.
“I think the transfer portal will not be as big of a deal at BYU as it is at other places, just because with this school we are always going to get who we are going to get here, in a sense,” Roderick said.
So what to the competitors think?
Conover said Thursday he doesn’t feel like the rookie newcomer, or an underdog in the derby.
“I kinda consider myself a veteran now, coming in,” he said. “I have a year under my belt, learning the offense and getting used to the speed of the game. It is a huge advantage.”
Hall said Conover, the scout team QB last fall, might have been the best QB the BYU defense faced last year. If it goes down to the final week of camp, so be it, Hall said.
“When you play the quarterback position, you gotta be able to handle the pressure, the uncomfortable situations,” he said. “So if it goes down to wire, that’s great. That’s just more time you have to stay locked in and continue to get better.”
Said Romney: “I feel very confident where I am at right now. I feel really good. I feel the best I have felt since I have been here at BYU. I mean, I would be ready to start Game 1 right now if I was called as a starter.”
Even if that call comes on Sept. 4.