Today, Bronco Mendenhall could name a starting quarterback to take BYU’s offense through post-spring practice.
Chances are, that person will be sophomore Taysom Hill, who has impressed coaches this spring after suffering a knee injury in a win over Utah State. Though limited to non-contact spring practice, Hill did everything asked of him but participate in two scrimmages.
But if the Cougars were to actually play a game today, Hill may not be cleared by doctors to be the starter. Neither would another impressive quarterback this spring, strong-armed Ammon Olsen, who suffered a PCL contusion two weeks ago in the Blue-White game.
That leaves mission-bound freshman Tanner Mangum, January enrollee freshman Billy Green and junior Snow College transfer Christian Stewart.
Of all those candidates, Stewart might be the most intriguing since he has played the most football after high school. Stewart has thousands of reps under his belt and a bowl win. It is Stewart who has two straight years of competition under his post-mission, post-high school belt.
But is Stewart good enough? I don’t know. More evidence is needed on all these guys. In two scrimmages with a watered-down defense, they all had their moments. Stewart had a 52-yard TD bomb to Ross Apo in Friday’s final scrimmage, but he’s also received audible encouragement over ball security.
Stewart was good enough to help lead Snow College to gobs of yardage and touchdowns. But when he agreed to walk on at BYU after high school, Cougar coaches were not exactly encouraging before he left on his mission. Same when he returned and saw the Heaps/Nelson dilemma. He decided to go to Snow and actually play.
What I do know is those who have watched his career say they believe he can produce if given the chance. BYU is lucky to have him on the roster as he’s patiently waited for the Cougar offensive brain trusts to filter through Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson and James Lark toward what is the current stable of quarterbacks.
With Stewart onboard, and seeing how Olsen, Mangum and Green performed this spring, new QB coach Jason Beck has good “passer” stock in the pen.
Stewart ranks among the top passers in Utah high school history, having thrown 44 touchdown passes from 2005 to 2007 at Timpanogos. His 319-yard average passing ranks No. 3 all-time.
I spent this weekend in Texas at the home of Stewart’s freshman high school coach, Aaron Bales, now coaching at Crosby middle school and high school. At Timpanogos High in Orem, Stewart led that ninth grade team to an 8-0 record, throwing to (former Ute D-lineman) tight end David Kruger, Brett Lopez, Jessie Fowlke and Taylor Lyons.
“Christian was a good athlete,” said Bales. “He always threw the ball well. He was a good leader and he always worked hard. For me, he was dominating at that age. Not too many teams threw the ball like that. We had a lot of games where he would throw four or five touchdown passes. At that age, not too many had that arm strength.
“He did everything we asked him to do. That team was very talented and he was talented but he just did everything without complaints. We went on to be undefeated, and that was a big reason why. As a ninth grade team, we played against all the teams in Utah Valley. We beat Lone Peak in a final rainy and muddy game to remain undefeated. They had Dale Murphy’s son at receiver, who went on to play at American Fork, then Utah.
“Christian always threw the ball well, and when I was there Timpanogos ran a wing I offense. His junior year, Brad Molen came in as offensive coordinator and brought in the spread offense. Christian Stewart and all of those kids put up big numbers. Christian had 44 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.”
That Stewart was not offered a Division I scholarship after Snow College surprises Bales. “He’s produced and he’s won from the time I coached him. You would think that because he’s a quarterback who puts up big numbers and wins everywhere he goes he would have been offered by somebody somewhere. I was surprised.”
Stewart’s last game took place in the Carrier Dome Bowl last November when the No. 4 Badgers defeated No. 3 and undefeated ASA College 47-21. Stewart, working with short fields because of an outstanding defense that produced four turnovers, hit six different receivers for 283 yards and three touchdowns.
As a Snow sophomore in 2012, Stewart threw 34 touchdown passes. That is far more than any quarterback on BYU’s roster threw post-high school this past year.
But it did not get him a scholarship.
If Mendenhall, after huddling with offensive coaches, names Hill his starter, the Cougar offense will embark on an offseason trying to polish up conditioning required to run it.
It is uncertain how Stewart fits in all of this, but coordinator Robert Anae and QB coach Beck are fortunate to have his free experience on board.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].