It wasn't that long ago that sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes was in the dog house. He had every right to be in that position after suffering a high right ankle sprain playing basketball during spring football in March.
Junior college transfer Matt Pelesasa took nearly all the snaps in the spring season and was the top quarterback after the Red/White game.
After the spring, Jakes and coach Willie Taggart had a heart to heart conversation.
"We had a meeting and he said he couldn't trust me because I went and did something I wasn't supposed to do and it was football season," Jakes said. "I just learned from that and I'm trying to build off every day being a good person."
Jakes has built himself back up in a big way. This morning Taggart named him the official starting quarterback heading into the season opener at Nebraska Sept. 4.
"I feel like if he can do the things I was looking for then he'll be our guy," Taggart said. "He did those things. I just wanted both of those guys to compete. If you told Matt, leaving out of spring that wasn't a done deal. We said that from the beginning that we're gonna come in, compete and keep it competitive. I'll tell ya what, even though we named a starter, it's gonna continue to be a competitive position."
Jakes has seemingly taken hold of Taggart's new west coast offense during camp. He and Pelesasa were close early on in snaps, but Jakes looked to be in a groove at times.
"It is a different mentality because we're trying to win as of right now," Jakes said. "We're not trying to build for the future, we're trying to build right now. I'm just trying to lead right now. Coach said we need a leader, so that's what I'm trying to do, lead and work hard."
The quarterback battle shifted over the past week and a half as Pelesasa has battled a sore, right, throwing arm. He's been limited in his number of reps and has had little or no reps in a couple of practices. Pelesasa said it's not major injury, just nagging.
"It's been real hard because I feel like I'm letting down the team, not being able to go every day like I would like to," he said. "But then again, I have to worry about getting myself healthy for the team. We only have three, so I need to be able to go when I'm called upon. It has hurt me a lot because I haven't been able to compete and I love to compete."
Pelesasa will now be the backup, ahead of true freshman Brandon Doughty, who's had his own impressive moments in camp. Taggart said he has no intention of redshirting Doughty for now, though that could change. Doughty remains as more of an emergency, if needed quarterback.
"I don't plan on changing anything," Pelesasa said. "The competition's still there and I'm gonna continue every day to compete, to make myself better, to make the team better, to make Kawaun better. Going into the first game, if it stays the way it is, then so be it. The better guy is gonna play in that game. If it's Kawaun or myself, or Brandon, anyone is gonna be ready for the job."
Taggart said he has been impressed not only with Jakes' work ethic and ability to come back from his spring setback, but also his abilities as a quarterback. That ultimately made the biggest difference.
"I didn't get to see him much in the spring, but he came out this fall and really threw the ball well, better than I thought he could," Taggart said. "The main thing is he has a chance to be really good in this offense, once he really learns it like he needs to learn it. I think he has a chance to be really good, especially with his athletic ability, being able to get some first downs with his feet. But he can throw the ball a lot better than I thought, so that was surprising."
But while Jakes knew he had something to prove to everyone else, including Taggart, there was not as much to prove to himself.
"I always had confidence in my arm, I just had to show (Taggart)," Jakes said. "We do seven on seven in the summer and the players are like, 'Go deep, Kawaun. Just go deep,' because they know I can throw deep. I was just trying to work on the little things like check downs, hitting the running backs and the short, individual routes to work on my accuracy."
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