By T. Scott Boatright
Last season heading into his first game as Grambling State University head football coach, Hue Jackson did not name a first-string quarterback until gameday, when Quarterius Hawkins got that start before giving way to then-true freshman Julian Calvez.
This summer, with Hawkins playing at Northwestern State, Calvez has been locked in a training camp battle with junior Myles Crawley, a transfer from Alabama State University.
And it looks like Jackson’s opening-day game plan will have a similar feel after during Monday’s first weekly press conference of the season, he declined to name a starter for Saturday’s season opener against Hampton in the Brick City Classic at Red Bull Stadium in Harrison, New Jersey.
“Not yet,” Jackson said about choosing a starting quarterback against Hampton. “I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping that competition going and letting those guys keep competing. Obviously we need to make a decision soon, and we will.
“We’ll let the data kind of drive it. And we know it’s a long season. Eventually both of those guys could end up playing. But whoever starts the season for us, we’re looking forward to that guy leading our team.”
Last season Calvez ended up connecting on 62-of-151 passes for 685 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions.
Crawley played in 19 games overall for Alabama State from 2019 to last season, recording 1,240 passing yards and throwing 19 touchdown passes.
First year Grambling offensive coordinator Tony Hull, Jr, said there are three things the GSU coaches are focusing on as they move toward choosing a starter behind center against Hampton.
“It all comes down to completing the football and putting the team in the right position to be successful,” Hull said of the competition between Crawley and Julian to be GSU’s starting quarterback. “Those are two major categories we’re focusing in on, and the third is protecting the football.
“So the ability to complete the ball, the ability to put us in the right position to make a play and ability to protect the football.”
Hull said the competition between Calvez and Crawley has been good for the entire team.
“This quarterback competition has been really good for the whole team because when you see two guys competing to be that signal caller, (other) guys take the initiative to compete at their other positions,” Hull said.
“So watching these two guys get after it, that’s made our whole football team better.”
Hull singled out tight end and running back as two of the strong positions for GSU’s offense heading into the season opener.
“I really love the way our tight end and running back positions have come on from the time we started out in the spring until now,” Hull said. “Those two groups have done a really good job of just developing and getting better and understanding what it takes to be successful in this offense.”
Hull said Grambling’s tight ends will need to be two-dimensional.
“We need them to have the ability to play a role in the passing game as well as have the ability to make the blocks we ask them to. It is really crucial for that position because if they do one well and the other they don’t do well, teams can kind of schematically prepare for that.”
Jackson said he feels more comfortable heading into his second season at the helm for the G-Men.
“I know my team better,” Jackson said. “I know my coaching staff better. I know the environment better. And I think we’ve all done a good job of understanding each other. And that’s what it’s all about. They know my vision for our football team is. I know what they need in order to have that happen, and now just trying to push all the buttons to make sure it happens the right way.”
Jackson, whose Tigers went 3-8 last season, also knows his team faces a tough challenge in the Pirates, who finished at 4-7 in 2022.
“Hampton is big,” Jackson said. “Extremely big, and they’re strong and athletic at quarterback, running back and receiver. They lost a number of guys on defense, but they play hard, they’re well-coached, they play a scheme that’s a little bit different, and they know how to play.”
Jackson said his defense will be facing a team that can move the ball through the air and on the ground.
“They can do both — they can pass the ball vertically and can run the ball,” Jackson said of the Pirates’ offense. “They’re massive up front. Those guys play well together and know what they’re trying to do. They’ve got good runners, good receivers, so it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”
Jackson said he’s looking for a strong showing from his defense and especially senior standout linebacker Sundiata Anderson.
“Dominate,” Jackson said about what he expects from Anderson against Hampton. “He’s one of the most dominant players in the conference. He’s put on weight — he’s 250 pounds now, up from 230. He is the (SWAC) Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and he needs to be that (on the field). He needs to be that for his football team and for himself.
“And I think he will be. He’s worked extremely hard. It’s important to him. There’s no question in my mind he’s going to have a great season.”