Inside the Monarchy
If you need anything in this game, you need a quarterback
by Rich Radford
A star, an understudy and a hot prospect walk into a room.
Sounds like the start of a joke, right?
It was anything but a joke Saturday as the Old Dominion Monarchs prepared for their spring game in football. As the team met that morning, the quarterbacks meeting had standout Taylor Heinicke, rising redshirt sophomore David Washington and South Carolina state player of the year Shuler Bentley in attendance.
“This is the third time we’ve been essentially starting from scratch and all three times we’ve been in a good place with our quarterback situation,” ODU head coach Bobby Wilder said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. It all starts with the quarterback. “
In 2009, when the program was just hatching, the upstart Monarchs had Thomas DeMarco, who is now preparing to quarterback the Ottawa RedBlacks in the Canadian Football League.
In 2011, when the Monarchs joined the Colonial Athletic Association, they had DeMarco and Heinicke.
In 2014, as the program steps up to the Football Championship Subdivision, Heinicke is here for a senior season in which the school will campaign him as a Heisman Trophy candidate, Washington is here as his backup and Bentley is waiting in the wings.
As a signee of the Monarchs, Bentley came to town to watch the spring game and sat in on the quarterbacks meeting with Heinicke, Washington, Colin McElroy and quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb. It was an opportunity to get Bentley that much more acquainted with what happens in the ODU football program on a daily basis.
The sooner the better, Wilder explained. ODU has 80 players on campus right now and another 25 expected to join the ranks before preseason camp begins on Aug. 3. However, 60 of those 80 have only been with the team for 10 months or less.
The quicker and faster Wilder can bring the newcomers up to speed as to how ODU’s football program operates from top to bottom the better.
“We’ll bring all of the new players in for summer school on June 29 to give them five weeks to acclimate themselves,” Wilder said. “We want them to be comfortable with where their classes are, what the meal schedules look like, let them hang out with their teammates on the weekend and create some team chemistry, and involve them in summer conditioning.”
The more there is a sense of what needs to be done, the better.
It goes back to the adage, “Early to bed and early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Wilder likes to practice in the mornings because of his belief in those words. Early on the calendar works just as well as early in the day, according to Wilder.
“There are advantages to knowing where everything is and getting there first,” Wilder said.
One of the advantages it gave Wilder was the opportunity to schedule for better weather. This was a raw spring when it came to the conditions, but there were moments in which Wilder canceled a morning practice and moved it to the evening because of what the radar was showing him and his staff.
Think about it: It’s impossible to do the reverse.
It’s also impossible to recruit too many good quarterbacks.
“What we have in our quarterback situation is ideal,” Wilder said. “A lot of college head coaches don’t feel as comfortable going into the preseason as I do. It’s the most critical position, no matter what level you are playing at. Just look at the Super Bowl, with Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. And Florida State had the best player in the country and won the national title.
“We have a kid who two years ago won the Walter Payton Award, so I’m quite comfortable. But believe me, it doesn’t matter if it’s the NFL or Pop Warner, you have to have a quarterback of merit if you want to win. For five years now we’ve had a good situation at quarterback every year and it’s allowed us to maintain our upward trajectory with this program.”