Albany State junior quarterback Frank Rivers threw for nearly 2,000 yards the last two years while at Grambling State and is easily the most experienced QB on the Rams’ roster this season. (John Millikan)
ALBANY — Steve Smith insists there is no front-runner in the race for Albany State’s starting quarterback spot.
Not Rodney Castlin and not Charod Williams. Not even Frank Rivers, a transfer from Grambling State who was arguably the biggest offseason acquisition in a summer full of changes.
Smith, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, said Wednesday the three-man race is a “wide open” competition.
“Right now we don’t have a time frame (to decide a starter),” Smith said. “We are looking to see who is competing and who can run the offense and put us in good position with good throws.
“They are competing. Every day they have the opportunity to compete, so we will see how it works out.”
ASU is coming off a season in which the offense struggled under former offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner — who now holds that position at Dougherty High — and an unstable quarterback situation. Division I transfers David Kooi and Keenan Grissett battled for the starting QB job in the preseason before Kooi was named the opening-week starter. Both seniors saw considerable time under center throughout the season but struggled mightily, combining for six touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Many outsiders think Rivers, who started eight games the last two years at Grambling State and threw for nearly 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, is the answer to ASU’s QB conundrum.
But Rivers isn’t ready to anoint himself the starter just yet.
“I’m glad people feel that way about me,” Rivers said Wednesday when asked about the speculation he would eventually be named the starter. “But nothing has been given to me. I have to work.”
Rivers’ competition this preseason will be Castlin, last year’s third-string quarterback, and Williams, a redshirt freshman from Carver High School. The trio has been splitting reps during the first three days of practice and has been sticking around after the conclusion of team activities to work with receivers and first-year quarterbacks coach Willie Totten.
Competing for a starting spot is a familiar routine for Rivers, who came up short in the QB competition at Grambling the last two years behind GSU head coach Doug Williams’ son, D.J. Williams.
“You have to be mentally tough and know to never give up,” Rivers said. “You have to be a warrior and be ready to fight every day. You need to have a positive attitude and be ready to work.
“There is nothing wrong with a little competition. We just have to come out every day and compete with each other but also help each other get better as a unit of quarterbacks. But we all know it’s a competition, so we are trying to get an edge and show the coaches why we should be the starter.”
Castlin, a graduate of Chapel Hill High School in Atlanta, also knows the feeling of not coming out on top in a QB competition. He stayed in the shadow of Kooi and Grissett last season before getting the nod to start vs. Fort Valley State last season in the Fountain City Classic in Columbus, where he completed just 8-of-26 passes for 138 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I learned from last year that you can’t ever give up,” Castlin said. “At the end of last season, I ended up starting in the Fort Valley game. It’s going to be a long season. We have nine games guaranteed, so I just have to study my playbook, stay confident and root on each other as a team.”
Castlin was the Rams’ primary quarterback before Rivers’ arrival and was No. 1 on the depth chart during the team’s spring game in March, but Rivers’ addition to the QB picture bumped Castlin out of the spotlight — and that didn’t seem to bother the 6-foot-4 senior after Wednesday’s practice.
“I liked it,” Castlin said. “I love a competition and never back down from that. If (Rivers) gets the starting job, I am going to stay confident and coach him, just like he would coach me if I started. You have to stay positive and realize it’s a long year. If he wins a ring, then I win a ring.”
While Castlin and the 6-foot-5 Rivers are two of the tallest players on the team, Williams, who is just 5-9 and 160 pounds, has had to overcome his height during the fight for the starting spot.
“I like the way (Williams) moves around in the pocket for his height,” Smith said. “Even though he doesn’t have a lot of height, he has a strong arm and can move around the pocket and make a throw.”
Smith also had positive things to say about Rivers and Castlin.
“I like (Rivers’) height, and I like that he can throw,” Smith said. “He is a smart kid and has all the intangibles. He is still competing right now though. Rodney has a good arm as well. He is athletic and has some good tangibles about himself. It’s a good competition, and we have to see who comes out on top.”
MOODY NAMED PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN: Rams senior safety Dexter Moody was the team’s lone representative on the Boxtorow.com HBCU Preseason All-American team released Wednesday.
Moody, who finished third in Division II last season with seven interceptions and led the nation for much of the year, is one of five defensive backs to make the team, which is selected by writers around the nation who cover Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Moody, a senior from Twin City who committed to the University of Georgia in high school but lost his scholarship because of disciplinary problems, has turned his football career around since transferring to ASU last summer from Georgia State and has emerged as a leader on the Rams’ defense.
Along with his conference-leading interception total last season, he returned two of those picks for touchdowns, had two fumble recoveries and 48 tackles.
The only other Division II player on the All-American list was Tuskegee offensive lineman Christopher Tolbert, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound senior from Birmingham, Ala.
Other players highlighting the team are former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell, who is entering his second season with Alabama State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Benjamin Anderson. Tennessee State led the way with five selections, while Bethune-Cookman had four and Arkansas-Pine Bluff landed three.