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Daunting task: College coaches face huge challenge in trying to establish depth at quarterback

Published: Friday, April 25 2014 8:25 p.m. MDT

Utah Ute quarterbacks warm up prior to the UCLA football game in Salt Lake City on Oct. 3.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former BYU quarterback Jason Beck thought about transferring more than once.

As it turned out, there was one thing he wanted more than a better shot at playing time — to finish his career a Cougar.

“I debated it both years, after my sophomore and my junior year,” said Beck, who was hired as the team';s quarterbacks coach in 2013. “After my junior year, I could have graduated and transferred without penalty. But I loved BYU and was committed to the program there. You never know what the future will bring, and you hope something will work out for you.”

Playing behind All-American John Beck (no relation) from 2004-2006 meant only starting one game in his college career, but that doesn’t mean he regrets staying.

“For me, I loved my teammates,” he said. “I love the university I was at and what it represented. It was bigger than just on-the-field playing time. A lot more went into it.”

His situation became complicated when he married BYU soccer standout Jaime Rendich his junior year. Although he and John Beck became close friends, he never completely gave up the hope that he’d find his way onto the field.

“I found my situation rewarding even though I wasn’t playing,” he said.

Now coaching at his alma mater, Beck understands — in a way that many coaches can’t — the unique frustration that quarterbacks struggle with and why so many consider transferring.

“I know exactly how they feel, the position they’re in,” he said. “I’ve had those conversations with backups. It’s an interesting dynamic. You’re very close as quarterbacks because there’s only four or five of you. A lot of times you have a good relationship, a good friendship with those guys, but at the same time you’re competing against each other.”

No quarterback sets out to spend his career on the sideline. No quarterback aspires to be a backup.

And yet, the reality is that most of those who are lucky enough to play college football will spend significant time as a backup. In some cases, guys will do what Beck did and spend their entire careers waiting for an opportunity that never comes.

The difficulty for college coaches is building depth at a position that is so limited in opportunity and yet so critical to a program’s success. Locally, high school superstars like Jake Heaps have opted to transfer rather than wait for their turn, while guys like James Lark have been content with the role of backup.

“That’s the struggle,” said USU coach Matt Wells of building and maintaining depth at quarterback in college programs. “As soon as you get one, it’s hard to continue to recruit those same kind of competitive, talented kids. They see (the starter) and think, ‘I may have to sit.’ That’s difficult in recruiting. And you’re always trying to get better than what you have at that time.”

In the last five or six years, more college quarterbacks seem to be unwilling to wait two or three years for a shot at starting. Instead, they transfer, even if it means sitting out because of NCAA penalties, in hopes of improving their odds and situations.

“I do tend to see that trend,” Wells said. “Quarterbacks, by nature, (are) very competitive people. They don’t want to sit. They want to play. I don’t look at (transferring) as quitting. I look at it as a reality for those kids that’s going to be tough.”

He said when he was coaching at Tulsa, a player came in, redshirted and then sat for three years.

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