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Kooi, Grissett rise to top of ASU quarterback battle

Florida Atlantic transfer David Kooi, far right, has raised the level of competition since joining the Rams a week ago and is pushing fellow transfer Keenan Grissett  (Gardner-Webb) for the starting job, which could be decided after Saturday’s scrimmage. (Photos by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Florida Atlantic transfer David Kooi, far right, has raised the level of competition since joining the Rams a week ago and is pushing fellow transfer Keenan Grissett (Gardner-Webb) for the starting job, which could be decided after Saturday’s scrimmage. (Photos by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — David Kooi and Keenan Grissett have done it all before.

They know what it takes to compete for a starting quarterback job, and they know the feeling of trying to prove yourself on the practice field.

They also know what it feels like to lose the battle.

The duo, who both transferred to Albany State after losing quarterback competitions at their previous colleges, have emerged as the front runners for the starting job to lead the Rams’ offense this season.

“You can definitely tell both of us are hungry for it,” Grissett said Tuesday at practice. “Both of us are coming from that situation, and we kind of have a chip on our shoulders. We just really want to give it our best. He is pushing me, and I am pushing him.”

They have pushed each other to the head of the pack in a QB race that includes recent transfer Rodney Castlin from Arizona Western College. Kooi transferred from Florida Atlantic after losing the battle for the starting spot over the summer, and Grissett was denied twice at Gardner-Webb before transferring in the spring to ASU.

“I would say that if we had a 1 and 2, it would be one or the other, either way,” offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said, referring to Kooi and Grissett. “Kooi is a pocket passer, and he’s going to stay in there and deliver the ball from the pocket. Keenan gives us another aspect where he is going to stay in there if he has to, but he could make the defense pay with his feet. Right now, both of them are playing to their strengths. Kooi isn’t trying to do what Keenan does, and Keenan isn’t trying to be Kooi.”

White hesitated to say if any of his quarterbacks — including Castlin, who wasn’t at practice on Tuesday — were leading the race for the starting job. But he did say that since Kooi joined the team about two weeks ago, he has brought the competition to a new level.

“I am happy where we are,” White said. “I am pleased where the competition seems to be going. They are really competing, and we like that.”

Kooi and Grissett know all about competing for a starting job.

Grissett played at Cross Creek High School in Augusta and passed for 1,543 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 710 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior year — but was redshirted his freshman year at Gardner-Webb after Stan Doolittle was named starter. He was moved to safety during his second year and then was thrown into another quarterback battle in his third season at Gardner-Webb before losing the competition and being moved to wide receiver.

“Things don’t go your way all the time,” Grissett said. “You may think you are doing the right thing, but at the end of the day the head coach has the say-so. All you can really do is compete and continue to do your best and use you personal skills to the best of your ability and just do you. You can’t worry about anybody else.”

One thing Grissett does have going for him this season is his familiarity with ASU’s offense. He has been on campus since January and split time under center during the spring with Blaize Schaeffer, who was a candidate to succeed star QB Stanley Jennings before being ruled academically ineligible.

“(Grissett) has been here since January, so I would hope he knows terminology and what we are looking for in terms of the reads on different routes,” White said. “You would hope he has a little bit of an advantage.”

Kooi, who passed for 2,500 yards and 21 TDs as a senior at Pensacola (Fla.) High School, came up on the short end of a down-to-the-wire QB battle with Graham Wilbert last year at FAU and was ruled out as the starter earlier this summer before transferring to ASU.

It was a rough three years in Boca Raton, Fla., for Kooi, who was listed No. 2 on the depth chart at some point during each season.

“I’ve learned to keep my head up through all the downfalls and just try to get my team better in the process,” Kooi said. “It’s not about us right now. We are trying to get better as a whole right now. I’m not worried about the battle. I’m just trying to learn the plays and learn the system and whatever happens, happens.”

In the short time he has been in Albany he has transitioned well to the Rams’ offense, which is more spread out than FAU’s pro-style playbook.

“I think it fits my athleticism,” Kooi said. “I came from a spread offense in high school with motions and stuff, so I am pretty much used to that. Where at FAU I was in more of a pro-style offense.”

Joyner said he and the coaching staff hope to be able to make a decision on the starter after Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage. Until then, White said there are several things they are looking at, including who is better at, “moving the offense, taking care of the ball, handling the huddle and the way the guys respond to him when he is saying, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Grissett isn’t concerned how long it takes for his coaches to name a starter and said he could battle for the spot up until the night before the Sept. 1 season opener against North Greenville.

“You just have to prepare like your number is being called,” Grissett said. “You never know what is going to happen. You have to be focused and ready to produce whenever your number is called. So whether it’s my number or David’s number, I know we are both going to be ready for the job.”