CAA FOOTBALL | As Towson’s starter, Oregon transfer QB hopes to find success in FCS

SATURDAY ON ASN: Towson at USF, 7 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

A former backup quarterback at Oregon, Morgan Mahalak, made the decision earlier this year to depart the Ducks and head east to join CAA Football’s Towson Tigers. The Tigers compete in college football’s FCS Division.

Oregon loses a largely unknown quantity in Mahalak at the FBS level while the Tigers gain a starting quarterback. Head coach Rob Ambrose announced Friday that the redshirt sophomore will start the season-opener at USF Saturday on ASN.

The right-hander arrived in Towson this summer as a redshirt sophomore after spending his redshirt freshman campaign directing Oregon’s scout team offense. He did not take a live snap from center during his two years in Eugene.

He was rated the nation’s No. 5 dual-threat quarterback as a senior at Marin Catholic High School.

Mahalak conveyed via Twitter in March, “Excited to announce I am furthering my career at Towson University. Very excited for this next chapter of my life and extremely thankful to the Ambrose brothers for this opportunity.”

While Rob is head coach, Jared, calls the plays for the Towson offense.

“We are happy that we have secured a commitment from such a talented young quarterback,” the head coach said in the spring. “Morgan brings a tremendous amount of potential and secures great competition at the quarterback position.”

The Tigers visited the FCS championship in 2013, where they fell to North Dakota State. In 2014, they dropped to a disappointing 4-8. In 2015, they returned to their winning ways and posted a 7-4 mark. Within the CAA, the team went 5-3 and failed to qualify for the NCAA postseason.

This fall, Towson will need to close the gap on James Madison, Richmond, and William & Mary, all of whom finished above the Tigers in the standings last year.

Viewing it solely from the quarterback position, that is a significant challenge. Towson’s starter last year, Connor Frazier, graduated and Mahalak beat out redshirt junior Heath Dahlgren and redshirt sophomore Ellis Knudson for the starting job. Dahlgren played in one game in 2015, and Knudson four.

“I am impressed with the work ethic of these young men,” Ambrose said on Friday.  “The fact that it took this long is a testament to their effort, focus and competitiveness.  What I probably like best is that we have three high quality student-athletes at the quarterback position who are not only competitors, but friends.  Knowing how they will work together week in and week out to make sure we are in the best position to win shows that they are great teammates.”

James Madison lost their dual-threat quarterback Vad Lee to graduation, but he was competently replaced by Bryan Schor following his injury in 2015. Schor returns to the Dukes in 2016 with both regular season and postseason experience under his belt. Richmond returns redshirt junior Kyle Lauletta, CAA Football’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. William & Mary returns senior Steve Cluley, who received third-team All-CAA honors in 2015.

CAA Football is no stranger to the trend of FBS transfer quarterbacks making good in FCS. Last year, Lee — a transfer from Georgia Tech — led JMU out of the gate to a 7-0 mark, before an injury sidelined him for the season in week eight against Richmond.

If the past is any indication, the Kentfield, Ca., native has the potential to excel at Towson and disrupt the overall CAA race. In high school at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, Calif.,, Mahalak backed up current Cal standout Jared Goff, who could be the first quarterback selected in the NFL Draft on March 28, until his senior campaign.

Once Goff graduated, Mahalak stepped in and posted a better QB rating (131) than Goff (120) the previous year. Mahalak threw for 2,795 yards, 38 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

He also rushed for 575 yards and another seven touchdowns and led Marin Catholic to a 12-1 record. Mahalak listed at 6-3 and 205 pounds on the Oregon roster and will join the Tigers this summer and be eligible to play this fall.

The signal-caller left Eugene on good terms with the Ducks. “A guy who was very sad to leave here but wanted to have an opportunity to play, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said.That was a very cool deal.”

It’s a cool deal for Towson, too.


FCS transfer players to watch in 2016, mostly players moving from FBS:

  • Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley): QB Maty Mauk (Missouri)
  • Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley): QB Mitch Kimble (Syracuse), QB Bud Martin (FIU)
  • Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley): OL lineman Darius Anderson (East Carolina), CB Al Harris, Jr. (South Carolina), WR Kevin Spears (LSU), RB Roc Thomas (Auburn)
  • Kennesaw State (Big South): QB Daniel David (Appalachian State)
  • Towson (CAA Football): QB Morgan Mahalak (Oregon)
  • Western Carolina (Southern Conference): QB Garrett Young (Mars Hill)
* — Graduate transfers

Above: Morgan Mahalak, who followed Jared Goff, the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick, at Marin Catholic, is now following his playing dreams to Towson. (Courtesy Towson Sports Information)
Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.