For the first time in the Justin Fuente era, Virginia Tech is returning their starting quarterback in redshirt sophomore Josh Jackson. When Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen talked to the media recently, Fuente mentioned how Josh Jackson would be the Hokies' starting QB "if we played tomorrow."
However, Fuente does plan to have a quarterback competition this spring.
“I’m sure I will be asked about the quarterback situation, so the bottom line is if we played
tomorrow, sure, Josh [Jackson] would be our starter," Fuente said. "But quarterback, like every position, we have very few guys who are above or beyond reproach in terms of competing for their jobs. So he’ll go out there and we will divide the reps between the other two guys with [Ryan] Willis and Hendon [Hooker]."
If you've listened to Fuente enough in the past and have an understanding of his philosophy, you'll know that Fuente isn't a man who is afraid of competition whatsoever even if it comes at QB when his team already has an incumbent starter. Fuente is a big proponent for competition as every position with only the guys who are starters "above or beyond reproach" being locked into their jobs as he stated.
As much s people may try to see this as an indictment on Josh Jackson, that's an inaccurate take and a complete misunderstanding of Fuente's coaching philosophy that encourages competition even when you have an incumbent starting QB.
However, Josh Jackson does have the advantage of having experience and live game action in Justin Fuente's system that gives him a major leg up.
"There are already some things that we know about Josh [Jackson] that we don’t know about the other two, that we will need to try to simulate in terms of when we scrimmage, we’ll have to do some live work with Willis and Hooker that we will not do with Josh. Josh has more than proved his ability to handle the toughness it takes and all that sort of stuff," Fuente said.
Josh Jackson's proven track record is something that Brad Cornelsen also brought up mention Jackson's toughness in particular as something that has stood out about him.
After leading the Hokies to a 9-4 season as one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the country, Jackson has rightfully earned the respect of the coaching staff though his late season struggles have opened the door for some competition.
Though Jackson may start the spring with a significant advantage, both Hendon Hooker and former Kansas transfer Ryan Willis will get their opportunities to push for the starting job.
Hooker was the first high school QB recruited by Justin Fuente after Jackson was the last Scot Loeffler guy and Jerod Evans came out of the JUCO ranks. So far, Hooker has lived up to what Brad Cornelsen could be while impressing Justin Fuente on Thursdays during practice last season.
"Hendon [Hooker] doesn’t have game experience but has some talent. The one thing he did do during the fall when we would practice on Thursdays, even though he got very few reps throughout the week, he got in there and things would seem to move smoothly," Fuente said. "That was a good sign with him showing he could process and communicate in our game situations on Thursdays."
Fuente values when his quarterbacks simulate live game action in practice so for Fuente to say that things moved "smoothly" when Hooker was at the helm in those situations in practice is some high praise for the redshirt freshman QB.
Athletically, Hooker is the most talented quarterback among this trio of QBs as a dual-threat guy who can make plays. One of the biggest learning curves for a QB at the collegiate level is developing a high level of communication, something that Hooker was clearly good at this fall according to Fuente.
Hooker still has some growing to do in simply learning the game given how the college game is significantly more complex than high school football. However, Hooker appears ready to push Jackson even more than he was reasonably able to do last year for the starting job.
Ryan Willis is probably the biggest unknown of the three given how he quietly transferred from Kansas to walk on at Virginia Tech after starting some as a freshman and sophomore in Lawrence.
With Willis having to redshirt this past season, Brad Cornelsen said that time allowed for him to see the game from a different perspective.
Cornelsen has clearly been impressed by Willis' strong arm talent which also stood out to us when we watched Willis throw during the Hokies' open spring practice last year
. His arm strength looked like of a quarterback who can push for a starting job at the highest level. Willis showed some impressed accuracy on deep throws that day and looked like a guy who could start at plenty of programs across the country.
Willis's impressive arm has also stood out to Justin Fuente even if his focus wasn't as much on Willis last season knowing the Kansas transfer had to sit out.
"[Ryan] Willis has some natural abilities throwing the football and he has fit in with the football team really well. He works hard and has got some game experience, so I’m excited to watch him go compete."
The arm talent of Willis is one of the biggest reasons why he can be a factor even if his odds aren't great. However, he does have some work to do from his time at Kansas after he had 21 interceptions compared to 12 TDs in his two seasons with the Jayhawks. Fortunately, Willis should benefit from working with one of the best QB gurus in college football in Fuente.
Right now, VT's starting QB job is Josh Jackson's to lose. However, Justin Fuente isn't afraid of competition and has opened the door for Hendon Hooker and Ryan Willis to compete against Jackson for the starting QB job.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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