Fresno State Bulldogs · Sports

Bulldogs will see “wide-open battle” for starting quarterback slot

Along with the transition to Kalen DeBoer as Fresno State’s head football coach, the Bulldogs also will shift to a new starting quarterback in 2020.

Don’t expect DeBoer to announce a starter anytime soon.

With DeBoer’s hiring, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb returns for his fourth season with the program and will serve as the associate head coach and quarterbacks coach. He spoke with reporters in a teleconference on Tuesday and discussed the quarterback competition.

“It will 100 percent be a wide-open battle,” Grubb said. “We’re not going to predetermine anything.”

There are four quarterbacks currently on the roster: junior Jake Haener, junior Danny Velasquez, sophomore Braden Wingle and sophomore Ben Wooldridge. Incoming freshmen Logan Fife and Jalan Early are set to join the ‘Dogs for fall camp.

Although all five QBs will have a shot at earning the starting job, it’s really a two-horse race between Haener and Wooldridge. Grubb expects one of those two to take the first snap at Bulldog Stadium in the season-opener against Idaho State on Sep. 5.

“I think the obvious choice is one of those two guys, and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t,” Grubb said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you tell a kid he can’t, and then all of a sudden he’s knocking on your door and showing you that he can do it. So we want to make sure that we vet that all out the right way, and we will, but I do think Jake and Ben are the logical choices for that.”

Haener transferred from Washington early last season after being edged out for the starting job by Jacob Eason. He played sparingly in three games in 2018, throwing for 107 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and completing 9 of 13 pass attempts.

Wooldridge served as the backup to starter Jorge Reyna last season. He played in three games and had one shining moment against Nevada, although it was a bit of an accident. In the loss to the Wolfpack, Reyna suffered an injury that took him out for a few plays.

So Wooldridge came in and attempted the first pass of his career, hitting wide receiver Keric Wheatfall in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. After the game, then head coach Jeff Tedford said Wooldridge was trying to throw the ball out of bounds beyond the end zone, but didn’t get enough air under the ball, which happened to work in Fresno State’s favor.

Wooldridge also played against San Jose State and UNLV. He went 3-5 for 13 yards against the Spartans and didn’t throw any passes against the Rebels.

Last year, Tedford and Co. handed Reyna the starting title in the spring. Given the current circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out spring practice, DeBoer and Grubb won’t have that luxury this year.

“Spring ball was going to be a big part of that, getting some answers at the quarterback position,” Grubb said. “That’s something that we’re really looking forward to these guys getting out there and dueling it out. They were both doing an outstanding job in offseason workouts as far as transitioning into a leadership role that they needed to. You need to roll the football out there and see who can produce and lead from that position, and unfortunately we weren’t able to do any of that yet, so that will be a fall camp decision.”

Neither quarterback holds an edge, Grubb said, and the decision will ultimately come down to whoever shows that they are the more productive player and leader.

“I think one of the things that we’ll have to evaluate quickly is who is the guy that is going to need the least amount of game examples or reps to be productive,” Grubb said. “You don’t want guys making those mistakes, those learning opportunities, in the course of a football game. So who’s the guy that can translate that quickly and look like he’s a vet out there, because I think Ben and Jake are both wildly talented kids, and we’re excited about both of them. The reality is neither one of them has started a football game for the Bulldogs.”

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.