University of Charleston football coach Pat Kirkland won’t have a problem finding a place to play junior John Knox.
The heir apparent to three-year starter Maurice Leak at quarterback is “head and shoulders” above every other QB on the UC roster during spring practice, but Kirkland would like nothing better than to see one of the others step up so that he can take advantage of Knox’s versatility.
“Absolutely,” said Kirkland, who is entering his fourth season with a 20-13 career record. “I’d like to see one of the other guys emerge. That doesn’t mean they’re all doing well or doing poorly. They all bring something to the table. We have a few guys who can play quarterback, but we’ll see who wins that battle.”
Also competing for reps at quarterback are redshirt freshmen Mason Olszewski and Jermaine Kelly and Gardner-Webb transfer Jordan Paul.
Paul, who was recruited by Charleston out of New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., played at wide receiver and quarterback as a freshman at Gardner-Webb. He caught seven passes for 82 yards. In the regular season finale against VMI while playing quarterback, he completed 2-of-11 passes for 11 yards and ran the ball five times for 32 yards and a score in a 31-24 loss.
Olszewski and Kelly redshirted last season for UC, so Kirkland only has a limited sample with which to work.
“Paul is a taller version of Knox,” Kirkland said. “Olszewski has a chance to be a special player. He’s just now starting to understand the offense and what we’re asking of him. He’s a guy we’re very excited about him. We’ll find someplace for him to play.
“Jermaine Kelly is more of a pro-style guy. He has a very strong arm and is a better athlete than people think. He’s not somebody who can’t move back there.”
In two seasons for UC, Knox has completed 94-of-168 passes for 967 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also had 237 carries for 1,091 yards and eight scores. As a receiver, he has 23 receptions for 225 yards and three scores.
“Right now, John (Knox) is head and shoulders ahead because of mileage,” Kirkland said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. If we had to play right now, he’d be our guy.”
There isn’t much tinkering done defensively. The Golden Eagles return two first-team All-Mountain East Conference defensive players (defensive linemen Demetrius Reddick and defensive back Ike Gibson), as well as three second-team picks (defensive lineman Rockford Stone, linebacker Justin Avery and defensive back Torie Wagner).
Kirkland, a former WVU football staff member, said his returning stars will provide needed leadership.
“Every team I’ve been on that has won and competed for a championship has had great leaders,” he said. “Between guys like John Knox, Justin Avery, (linebacker) Matt Duncan, Stone, Gibson ... those guys are very strong leaders with strong personalities. That’s a positive thing. I’m not sure we’ve had that to the extent I’d like to have it.”
The Golden Eagles will wrap up spring practice with their spring game on April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at University of Charleston Stadium.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.