BLACKSBURG, VA – For the second straight year, the Virginia Tech Hokies have a quarterback battle on their hands heading into the season. In 2016, however, the battle was between two upperclassmen who had some solid college football experience under their belt (Brenden Motley and Jerod Evans).
This year, the situation couldn’t be more different. There are three guys competing for the starting quarterback spot: junior college transfer A.J. Bush, redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson and true-freshman Hendon Hooker.
The issue is that none of the three have playing experience at a Power Five school. Despite the inexperience, head coach Justin Fuente has been impressed with all three of the quarterbacks’ work ethic. “The first thing that I notice is that they genuinely are trying to help each other. There’s a team-first mentality with them right now, which is a good thing. It’s a positive thing for our entire group,” Fuente said.
While he’s never started in a big-time college football game, Bush has the most playing experience of the bunch. The 6-foot-4 signal caller served as the backup at Nebraska for two years before transferring to Iowa State Community College for the 2016 season. He committed to Virginia Tech earlier this year.
“I had just seen an opportunity, you know, obviously with Jerod (Evans) leaving,” Bush explained when asked why he chose Virginia Tech. “Coach Fuente, the conversation with him really made things more clear about what was at hand.”
Despite Bush’s maturity, Jackson is the favorite to win the quarterback battle simply because he is the only one of the three with experience in Fuente’s system. Last season, Jackson made a late push in August for the team’s starting quarterback spot, but the coaching staff ultimately decided to place a redshirt on him and gave the starting not to Jerod Evans.
“I knew I’d have to compete, especially since we didn’t have very many quarterbacks left with Motley and Jerod leaving,” Jackson explained. “I knew we would bring somebody in to make this a good competition.”
The underdog in the competition is true-freshman Hooker. The North Carolina product was a four-star recruit out of Dudley High School. The 6-foot-4 QB was was listed as the No. 11 dual-threat passer in the 2017 recruiting class. Being a true-freshman, Hooker may not yet have the bulk to absorb the hits that he will inevitably take in college football -- especially in Fuente’s system.
Last season, Evans was led the team in virtually every rushing category, including rushing attempts. However, Hooker does feel like he’s ready for whatever hits come his way. “Just gaining muscle weight and just trying to get stronger in different areas like my back legs and my back shoulders,” Hooker said on what his focus in the offseason has been. “I’ve put on 20 pounds since I’ve enrolled, so pretty big gains.”
In Virginia Tech’s Spring Game, Hooker was the most impressive passer of the bunch, completing 10 of 11 passes for 113 yards. The true-freshman was the only quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in the exhibition game as well. All three of the quarterbacks battling it out are mobile guys, so they all fit the mold of a Virginia Tech-style QB, as the program has historically had more success with speedy signal-callers under center. If last year is any type of indication, don’t expect Fuente to make a decision on the starting quarterback until days until the season opener. “We don’t have a date,” Fuente said.
“You know, obviously there is a point in time when we’ve got to move forward and make a decision. I’m not sure what that date is. We’re not to that point yet. I’m optimistic and hopeful that somebody will separate themselves before we get to whatever that mythical date is.”