David Kooi, a Division I transfer from Florida Atlantic, gets the nod Tuesday to be the Rams' starting quarterback for their season opener Saturday at home against North Greenville. (Herald file photo)
WHO: North Greenville at Albany State.
WHAT: 2012 season opener for both.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Albany State Coliseum.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
FOLLOW ONLINE: For live scoring updates go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — Albany State football coach Mike White ended weeks of speculation Tuesday, naming David Kooi the starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against North Greenville.
Kooi, a transfer from Division I Florida Atlantic, had been battling for the starting job for the past month with Gardner-Webb transfer Keenan Grissett.
The duo had been neck-and-neck for the job and traded an equal amount of snaps in the team’s only scrimmage Aug. 18, but Grissett was sidelined late last week with back spasms, making the decision of naming Kooi the starter an easy one.
“Once Grissett went down with his back spasms, it became a lot clearer that David was going to run our offense,” White said.
Kooi, a 6-foot-6 pocket passer, will take the opening snap, but Grissett — who is more mobile and capable of running the option — will still see some playing time Saturday.
“Grissett will see action (Saturday),” said White, who added that Grissett’s back spasms are healing. “He will get on the field. I’m glad to see he is back and feeling better.”
While Grissett’s injury might have helped push the starting job in Kooi’s direction, offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said Grissett’s ailment wasn’t ultimately the deciding factor.
“Really, David has shown a whole lot in camp throwing the ball, and we wanted to be able to throw it around,” said Joyner, who doubles as the team’s quarterbacks coach. “Being the starter doesn’t mean that much right now. We want to see who will be able to finish for us.”
The team didn’t practice Tuesday, so neither Kooi nor Grissett were available for comment. But Joyner said when he informed the team of the news Sunday, both quarterbacks accepted the decision.
“Really there wasn’t much reaction (either way),” Joyner said. “Grissett is all right with it because he knows he will still get some snaps and will still get to play.”
Grissett will get some playing time, but Joyner was clear: Kooi’s starting job is permanent.
“We don’t want to have to answer questions each week about who the starting quarterback is going to be,” Joyner said. “Kennan will play a role in the gameplan, but we are wanting David to take over as starter.”
Kooi joined the Rams days before preseason camp started, adding another body to a quarterback competition that included Grissett and Arizona Western College transfer Rodney Castlin. Entering the season, Blaize Schaeffer was the leading candidate to succeed star QB Stanley Jennings before Schaeffer was ruled academically ineligible — and his departure sent the ASU coaches scrambling to find a replacement.
When the Rams initially signed Kooi, Joyner was hesitant to say he was the new leading candidate for the starting job.
“We had never really seen David on the field,” Joyner said last week. “We had seen a lot of film on a lot of people. But it’s something about when they get out here on our field that they don’t look as fast or their arm doesn’t look as strong. It’s always something. So we look at the film, and say, ‘Yeah. He will be a good fit for our program.’ But he has to come here to get a starting position. He can’t get a starting position from the film.”
Kooi slowly started to earn his coaches’ respect on the practice field.
As the preseason progressed, it became clear that Kooi and Grissett had risen to the top of the competition, but each of them brought completely different sets of skills to the table.
Kooi is more comfortable in the pocket, which he showed during the scrimmage, connecting on 8-of-15 passes and completing several long passes, including a 51-yard bomb to star receiver Ronnie Tubbs.
It’s his precision throwing the ball that ultimately convinced the ASU coaches to go with Kooi.
“Kooi can really throw it around,” said Joyner, who was a star QB in his own right at Dougherty and ASU. “And he can throw the deep ball really well. Really, he can throw anything very well.”
Grissett joined the ASU program in January and shared snaps with Schaeffer in spring workouts and the team’s annual Blue and Gold scrimmage in March. Then when Schaeffer became ineligible later in the spring, Grissett suddenly became the only QB on the Rams’ roster. He remained a leading candidate for the job until painful back spasms flared up last week.
“For some reason he couldn’t move,” White said, referring to Grissett’s back spasms. “He said he wanted to roll out of bed, and he couldn’t turn one way or something.”
Before Grissett got injured, Joyner and White talked about the possibility of giving both quarterbacks significant time in the backfield — something Kooi wasn’t opposed to when he spoke to The Herald last week.
“I think they want to see what we can do in a game situation,” Kooi said. “We both bring good attributes to the table, so whatever they go with I think will work. We are both pretty good leaders on the field, and the team respects us. I think if we both play or just one of us plays, it will be a good outcome regardless.”
Kooi is the starter, but Grissett will get a chance to prove himself during Saturday’s game — and it won’t be for just a random play to try to catch the defense off guard.
“He won’t be Tebow or anything for us,” said Joyner, referring to New York Jets backup QB Tim Tebow, who will likely be used exclusively in the team’s Wildcat package this year. “He will get some time. He will get some series. He will be quarterback and will run and throw for us. He will play the same role as if Kooi was in there.”
Grissett told The Herald earlier in the preseason that even if he isn’t named the starter, he has to prepare every day like he is the team’s No. 1 quarterback.
“You never know what is going to happen,” Grissett said. “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.”
Kooi and Grissett both transferred to ASU after losing battles for the starting quarterback spot at their former colleges.
Kooi was one of the heaviest recruited quarterbacks out of Florida when he graduated from Pensacola Catholic High School, where he threw for 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior season, but he came up just short of a starting position each year at FAU, where he was listed No. 2 on the depth chart at some point during each season.
Grissett was a dual-threat QB at Cross Creek High School in Augusta, where he passed for 1,543 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 710 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior season. At Gardner-Webb, he played safety his redshirted freshman year and wide receiver as a sophomore, losing QB battles each season.