Earlier this week, new head coach Brent Pry announced that fourth year sophomore Grant Wells will be Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback. Wells, the transfer from Marshall, emerged as the leader over South Carolina transfer and fifth year senior Jason Brown. This is exciting news, since Wells has the potential to play three more years and give the Hokies much needed consistency at the position.
For the entirety of the Justin Fuente era, there was a quarterback carousel of multiple starters and a transfer portal exodus. It is no coincidence that the Hokies have been mediocre for most of that time period. Virginia Tech has not had consistency at the position since Frank Beamer retired. Even though Beamer’s last few years were also mediocre, he didn’t have losing seasons. Beamer built his program on defense and special teams – everyone knows that. But he does not get the credit he deserves for the consistency he produced with his quarterbacks.
Let’s take a look at the history of the position over the past few decades (and the correlating team success – or lack thereof):
Quarterbacks under Frank Beamer (1987-2000)
When Frank Beamer took over the program in 1987, it was suffering from harsh sanctions levied after violations during the Bill Dooley era. Beamer clearly knew the value of stability in the quarterback position, as his first QB was returning starter Erik Chapman. The following year, freshman Will Furrer began his four-year tenure as the starter (when he was healthy, that is).
When the sanctions lifted, success – and consistency at quarterback – followed. In 1993, Maurice DeShazo led the Hokies to their first bowl since 1986 and the first of a 27 consecutive bowl streak (which is fourth best of all time). DeShazo started for three years before turning the reigns over to Jim Druckenmiller. In his two years, Druck took the Hokies to new heights, going 20-4 in that span. He led them to the Sugar and Orange Bowls, winning the former over Texas.
Al Clark started the next two years, then came Michael Vick. As a redshirt freshman in 1999, Vick led the Hokies to an undefeated season and the national championship game, where they led Florida State 29-28 after three quarters. They fell to the Seminoles, but Vick put the Hokies on the map! And if not for an injury in the 2000 season, he may have taken them back to the title game.
Beamer and his quarterbacks brought Virginia Tech from sanctions and national irrelevance to a national power. And every year of his career so far, Beamer used a quarterback who started more than one season.
Quarterbacks under Frank Beamer (2001-2015)
Michael Vick left for the NFL (he was the top overall pick) after his redshirt sophomore season. Unfortunately, Tech did not have “the next guy” ready. Grant Noel started the entire 2001 season and led the team to an 8-4 record. However, his tenure ended early in the next season, and he lost the starting job to Bryan Randall.
The sophomore Randall took the helm for three years, ending with an ACC championship in the Hokies’ first year in the league in 2004. This also began the eight consecutive ten-win season streak.
Randall was succeeded by Michael Vick’s younger brother Marcus, who guided Tech to an 11-2 finish in 2005. The younger MV would have been yet another in the long list of multi-year starters at Tech, but his cumulative legal problems led him out of the program, and Sean Glennon took over in 2006. In his second season as starter, Glennon lost the job to true freshman Tyrod Taylor. However, after Taylor’s injury a few games later, Glennon finished the season, winning the ACC title and earning the game’s MVP award.
Glennon started the next season, but he again lost the starting job to Taylor after only a few games. This time Taylor stayed healthy. Tyrod finished the 2008 season as the starter and went on to start the next two. He then went on to the NFL, where he is still playing today!
After Taylor graduated, converted tight end Logan Thomas led the Hokies for three years. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer followed Thomas, which coincided with the end to Beamer’s career. The Hokies struggled under Brewer, who was oft injured in 2015, but he did record a win at Ohio State in the year the Buckeyes eventually won the national championship.
Thus, under Frank Beamer, all quarterbacks started for multiple seasons except two. One was Grant Noel, who just wasn’t highly talented, and the other was Marcus Vick, who just got in trouble with the law way too much. Beamer’s consistency at the position, especially with mobile quarterbacks who could also stretch the field, was one of the pillars of success of his program.
Quarterbacks under Justin Fuente (2016-2021)
In Frank Beamer’s final four seasons, the Hokies were 29-23 and their quarterback play steadily declined. Enter Justin Fuente, the supposed “quarterback whisperer” who coached Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch. Expectations were high for Fuente, and in his first two seasons, he delivered. In 2016, junior college transfer Jerod Evans led the Hokies to a 10-4 season and the ACC title game. Evans was a stud, and he still holds five Virginia Tech quarterback records.
After the 2016 season, Evans surprised many and declared for the NFL draft despite having one year of eligibility remaining. He was old for a junior – he was 23 at the time. But there is speculation that the way Tech used its quarterback also contributed to that decision. Evans was a workhorse. He ran the ball 204 times for 846 yards that season (averages of 14.5 and 60.4 per game). He was the team’s leading rusher – running backTravon McMillian was next with 145 carries for 676 yards. And Evans did this while battling injuries throughout that season. Yes, he was instrumental in the team’s success, but one can only wonder if he would have stayed if he was asked to do less with his legs and instead distribute the ball more.
After Evan’s departure, redshirt freshman Josh Jackson led the 2017 Hokies to a 9-4 campaign. Statistically, Jackson was a success, completing 59.6% of his throws for 2991 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. It was a good start – and he had three more years of eligibility to improve on those numbers. However, Jackson was also leaned on heavily in the run game, carrying a team high 124 times for 324 yards.
Unfortunately for Jackson, he broke his leg in the third game of the 2018 season. Kansas transfer Ryan Willis then assumed starting duties. In 12 games, Willis completed 58.5% of his passes for 2716 yards. He had 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. However, the Hokies finished 6-7 for their first losing season since 1992.
When Fuente declared an open quarterback competition the next spring, Josh Jackson didn’t take too kindly to this decision and he opted for the transfer portal. That left Willis as the quarterback to start the 2019 season. However, the senior regressed as a quarterback, and he struggled as the Hokies started the season 2-2. He was benched after an embarrassing 45-10 home loss to Duke.
This opened the door for sophomore Hendon Hooker. With the help of newly hired consultant Jerry Kill, Hooker turned the tide of the season. He guided the Hokies to victories in six of their next seven games. Their only loss was a last second 21-20 heartbreaker at Notre Dame in which Hooker did not play because of injury. Tech finished the season 8-5, but they lost to Virginia for the first time since 2003. They also lost in the last minute of the bowl game versus Kentucky.
In the 2020 Covid year, Tech’s quarterback room was a constant question mark. Hooker could not play in the first two games due to health issues. Virginia Tech won both games with backup Braxton Burmeister at the helm. However, Hooker replaced Burmeister in the third game, a loss at UNC. He started the next six games. But the Hokies went 2-6 in games in which Hooker played, including a home loss to Liberty.
When Hooker dropped a few shotgun snaps against Clemson late in the year, he was unceremoniously benched and did not even play in the next game against Virginia. He entered the transfer portal shortly after the UVa game (and is doing well at Tennessee!). The Hokies finished below .500 again (5-6), and the players elected not to attend a bowl. This ended the heralded bowl streak at 27 consecutive seasons.
With a very thin quarterback room, Virginia Tech marched into the 2021 season with Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister leading the way. Burmeister’s effort was admirable – he played hurt frequently, and he only threw 4 interceptions. However, he threw for just 1960 yards and 14 touchdowns. And despite his consistency, he was often inexplicably pulled for the run-first Connor Blumrick at random times throughout the season. The Hokies again finished under .500, giving Justin Fuente three sub-.500 seasons in four years. This is something that had not happened at Tech since Beamer arrived on the scene and coached with scholarship limits from the Bill Dooley sanctions.
When Fuente was fired, Burmeister and backup Knox Kadum both hit the transfer portal, which guaranteed that Virginia Tech would start a new quarterback for the 2022 season. This will be the seventh consecutive season that the Hokies will have a different starter for most/all of the season.
Virginia Tech NEEDS consistency under center. Frank Beamer had it for the duration of his tenure at Tech. He became a Hall of Fame coach after 29 years at the helm for the Hokies. Justin Fuente‘s consistency came in the form of turnover at the position. He became an unemployed coach after only six years.
Beamer enjoyed 23 consecutive years of winning records, including an eight-year run of ten wins or more. He won seven conference titles and appeared in eight Sugar and Orange Bowls during his 23 consecutive bowl streak. He did all of this with only twelve starting quarterbacks in 28 of those years.
Conversely, Fuente’s six teams had constant turnover at quarterback, with five players starting most of those games in that stretch. (This does not include the single game injury situations that forced lone starts by Quincy Patterson and Knox Kadum). Not surprisingly, the Hokies have been mired in mediocrity over the past four seasons, and when new coach Brent Pry arrived, the cupboard was bare of starting quarterback talent.
Fortunately for Tech fans, incoming transfers Grant Wells and Jason Brown have stabilized the position. Wells has three remaining years of eligibility, so it is great news to Hokie fans that he is the starter for this season. He has a big arm, throwing for 3532 yards last season at Marshall. That total is only 14 yards below Jerod Evans’ single season record at Tech.
If Wells can even throw for 85% of last year’s total, he will accumulate 3000 yards, which would put him fourth on the all-time single season records list. 75% of that (2649) puts him tenth on the list. Either way, those kinds of numbers will provide a foundation for an offense that is redefining itself under Brent Pry. Add that to the consistency of the same quarterback for two or three years and the Hokies can start to turn the program around immediately. And that is a breath of fresh air for Hokie fans who basically had a roster devoid of any passing threats at the end of last season.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Multiple year starters at quarterback. It is the key to the Hokies success, and they are positioned well to obtain it.
To Read More College Football Articles, click HERE
For More Great Football Content
Follow us on Twitter at @GridironHeroics for more great content. We appreciate you taking time to read our articles. To interact more with our community and keep up to date on the latest in Football news, JOIN OUR FREE FACEBOOK GROUP by CLICKING HERE
Pingback: Revisiting The Keys To Success In Virginia Tech’s Loss At Old Dominion - Gridiron Heroics