SALT LAKE CITY — Standing in the noonday sun, buoyed by the optimism that comes with being a 19-year-old football star, Jack Tuttle has all the answers. They come in the practiced cadence of one who has been a story for years.
Tuttle isn’t a know-it-all. For a four-star recruit that had Alabama, Wisconsin and Louisiana State scholarship offers, he’s unusually humble. There’s no mention of his accomplishments, only of his hopes. That doesn’t mean his plan is vague. He expects to be Utah’s starting quarterback, sooner or later. Plan on sooner. A study of the 2012 season by then-Ute assistant coaches revealed that 70 percent of teams nationwide used at least two different starting quarterbacks, due to injury or poor performance.
“Yeah,” Tuttle knowingly says, when presented the data. “So my job is just to be ready and support my team and prepare as if I’m the starting quarterback.”
That’s how Tuttle rolls: concise, on point, non-controversial, positive. He’s a coach’s dream. More precisely, he’s a junior coach.
Considering projected starter Tyler Huntley missed 3½ games last year, it’s safe to say either true freshman Tuttle or redshirt freshman Jason Shelley will see starting action this season. Anyone who has seen Huntley’s abandon can calculate the odds.
Given Huntley’s ability to make plays, it would be silly not to assume he’ll start under center Aug. 30 against Weber State. But Tuttle, a four-star recruit from San Diego, is a 6-foot-3 pro-style signal-caller. Timing, touch, field vision, decision-making, range — he has them all.
“He’s an NFL-ready quarterback,” says another true freshman, receiver Solomon Enis.
If not entirely “ready,” no one is debating his NFL potential; coaches say he has the requisite tools. Meanwhile, he has become a leader, despite being a freshman. Besides a record-smashing prep career, he found time to write the lyrics to a school fight song, just because.
“A bunch of us got the idea, using the USC fight song — I know, bummer — and we wrote the words,” Tuttle says.
Freshman quarterbacks nationwide are crowding their way into games, inexperience notwithstanding. Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa led their teams in last January’s national championship game. Neither needed to be coaxed out of his shell. USC quarterback J.T. Daniels graduated a year early and completely avoided his senior year of high school, yet is a potential starter. BYU is seriously considering true freshman Zach Wilson.
So naturally the subject of starting is an ongoing story with Tuttle. Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor says, “In the end, playing a quarterback as a true freshman is not a good situation.”
Maybe not, but it’s a common one. Top quarterbacks begin getting scholarship offers in their mid-teens. They attend numerous camps and, like Tuttle, graduate early and enroll in college in time for spring drills. Their experience belies their youth.
Showing up at Utah in spring is only part of Tuttle’s story. He’s far beyond his age in football savvy, having begun studying game film at age 10, when most kids his age were watching “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”
“It was kind of my thing,” Tuttle says. “I watched a lot and asked a lot of questions with my dad. I just enjoyed it. Lots of guys don’t like to see themselves doing bad things, but I kind of grew out of that at a young age. I like seeing what I can improve upon. It’s not a bad thing.”
It’s a prodigy thing.
He commands the snap count with a practiced air, lofting a perfect fade for a touchdown, then rushing to congratulate the receiver. Each day he is one of the last to leave the practice field.
“He works hard, he comes in and watches film early when no one’s there,” says Enis. “He’s the last person out of the weight room. He’s just that guy, that typical ideal football player that you want on your team.”
Taylor could do worse if he ends up starting Tuttle sometime during the season. Could Tuttle make the quick transition?
“Yeah, he could,” Taylor firmly says. “Jack knows he’s in the mix. He’s a kid that is so focused and locked in, so you almost have to say, ‘Jack, you’re going to get there.’”
In many ways, he already has.