Paul Millard saw game action as Geno Smith's backup last fall and has a leg up on Ford Childress in terms of experience, but the two are battling this spring to be Smith's successor at quarterback.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It's been a little over a year now since Ford Childress arrived on campus at West Virginia and immediately jumped into his college football career.
He arrived from Houston as an early enrollee last January, went through winter conditioning and then hit the field for his first spring practice.
He certainly looked the part. At a strapping 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, he stood out even among West Virginia's quarterbacks at the time, Geno Smith and Paul Millard.
And then practice began.
"I was watching tape the other day from last spring. Man, it was ugly,'' Childress said. "I can't even [point out the worst part]. The whole thing was just ugly.''
Well, to a certain extent, things are still a bit ugly for Childress. For Millard, too. As the two battle this spring for the right to succeed Smith as West Virginia's quarterback, that word still finds its way into coach Dana Holgorsen's vocabulary every now and then.
But have no doubt, progress has been made. And from last spring to this, the progress has been dramatic.
"This spring I actually know what's going on - what to do, what reads to make,'' Childress said. "Last spring it was kind of all hurried and I was just thrown into the fire.
"I watched that tape from last spring and it's just completely different. The way I play, the speed of my game, all of that is just completely different.''
When considering Childress and his progress, of course, it's probably prudent to recall that he isn't exactly a quarterback lifer. Yes, he grew up playing the position, but when he entered high school he was moved to tight end because there was a quarterback already entrenched in the position. He didn't move back until he was a junior, so he had just two years of real experience when he arrived in Morgantown.
In other words, he wasn't only getting used to playing college football, but was also still getting used to being a quarterback.
"Yeah, it's difficult,'' Childress said. "It's always been difficult because [as a quarterback] you have pressure and you're expected to do everything right. But Geno made it look a lot easier than it really is. He was pretty good.''
Of course, Childress is no novice to the game. Not only has he been around it all his life, he's been around it at the highest levels. His dad, Ray, was a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Houston Oilers.
He was asked if perhaps sometimes, when he's in those quarterback meetings or on the field with so many decisions to make and his head is spinning, does he wish he'd followed his dad's footsteps and become a defensive end, chasing QBs instead of trying to be one.
"All the time,'' said Childress, who has added another 10 pounds since his arrival. "All the time.
"But the last time I played D-line was sixth grade and I was twice the size of everybody else, so it was pretty easy. I think it would be pretty fun for maybe a day and then I'm done.''
By all accounts, the battle between Childress and Millard is as even as they come.
"One of us has a better day than the other one and then the next day it's the other way,'' Childress said. "It just goes back and forth.''
Come Saturday afternoon, when spring drills end with the 2 p.m. Gold-Blue game at Mountaineer Field, Holgorsen said the two will split the first-team reps just as they have all spring, or roughly evenly. They will likely do the same thing when fall practice begins in August.
"We're just going to have to compete all the way through and just keep getting better every time,'' Childress said. "I think it's a lot better with us competing and pushing each other. I think that will bring a lot better play out of both of us.''
For Childress, of course, his level of play has already been taken to the next level from where he was a year ago.
"I think I've made progress,'' Childress said. "My timing, my urgency has gotten a ton better; my footwork especially from the beginning of spring to today, everything has picked up.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.