Aug. 25, 2003
Gailey said he informed all three Tech quarterbacks — Ball, senior A.J. Suggs and freshman Patrick Carter — after practice Sunday night and then made the announcement to the media at his weekly press conference. Suggs will be the backup, with Carter number three.
Tech and the Cougars open the 2003 season Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
“I think we were initially impressed by how he handled himself, by the way he understood the game, and by the way he played the position,” said Gailey of the 5-11, 192-pound freshman, who passed for more than 2,000 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions as a senior at Stephenson High School in suburban Atlanta.
“There are no utopia quarterbacks as true freshmen,” said Gailey. “That doesn’t happen. There are things that he still needs to work on. But, he came in and was very impressive with the way he handled himself, the way he moved the football, and the way he didn’t make any bad decisions. He threw fewer interceptions that any other quarterback per pass in all of camp. So those types of things led me to believe that he could go out and play the game the way that you would like for it to go out and be played.”
Ball, who will turn 19 on Oct. 6, is believed to be the first true freshman ever to start at quarterback in a Tech season opener. Modern records dating to the 1940s show that the Jackets have had several true freshmen signal callers start games but none in the season opener.
The last true freshman quarterback to start any game for the Yellow Jackets was Stu Rogers in 1980, who filled in for injured starter Mike Kelley against Duke in the eighth game of the season. Kelley also started as a true freshman, entering the lineup in the third game of the 1978 season against Tulane.
Game three is the earliest recorded start for a Tech true freshman. Mike Jolly also earned the nod in the third game of the 1976 season against Clemson. That year, the Jackets actually started two freshmen as Gary Lanier made his debut later in the season.
Gailey said he was not worried about Ball being overwhelmed by the pressure of starting.
“First of all, I don’t think that he’s gotten to this point by being overwhelmed by things,” said Gailey. “He hasn’t seen it, but sometimes when you don’t know, and when you’re just going out and playing, it’s good. That’s what he’ll do. He’ll just go and play the game. As time goes on, he’ll understand how big some of these games get. Everybody knows, to a certain extent, how big they get, but he’ll learn as time goes on.”
Gailey has stated throughout the preseason that he would have no problem starting a freshman quarterback if he was the best player. He had a freshman starting quarterback (Matt Turk) at Troy State in 1984, when he led the Trojans to the NCAA Division II national title.
“I think I’ve always been one to say ‘what looks right, what’s going on on the field is what’s right,'” said Gailey. “I don’t try to read into things. I don’t try to perceive something and make it happen in my mind. I evaluate what happens and go with that. All I did was go by what was happening on the field.”
Gailey knows that there will be some ups and downs with a young quarterback.
“The patience level has to be very high,” said Gailey. “I expressed that to him, because I wanted him to know that. I think you have to have patience with a guy like that, and let him play through some tough times. It won’t be easy, and I’ll try to make sure that he understands that we will help him get through those tough times. We’re all going to work through this thing together. Hopefully there aren’t very many, and we won’t have to worry about it too much.”
Ball, who will play behind a veteran offensive line and has experienced receivers to throw to in Jonathan Smith and Nate Curry, will be facing an aggressive Brigham Young defense, led by first-year coordinator Bronco Mendenhall, who came to BYU from New Mexico.
“Reggie faces an all-out blitz football team that we have some idea of what they’re going to do,” said Gailey. “We’ve gotten some film, and we have looked at what they’re going to be doing. But until you get on the field with a new defensive coordinator, you just don’t know. We’ll have to get a feel during the course of the game. Those two points played into each other somewhat. Since you don’t know what they’re going to do, you have to have a generic game plan, and a generic game plan helps a freshman quarterback more than anything. So those two things are somewhat compatible at this juncture.”
Ball is expected to be one of two true freshmen in the Tech starting lineup, along with defensive tackle Mansfield Wrotto of Snellville, Ga. Several other rookies should play on special teams and as backups.