Opportunity is key for QBs transferring from FBS to FCS level

Morgan Roberts of Yale  (photo: Yale Athletics)

There’s a waterfall of quarterback talent cascading from the FBS ranks to the FCS level seeking opportunity. It shows no signs of abating.

The chance to build something drew Max Staver to Houston Baptist, in just its second year of competition. “The school is still looking to build a tradition and culture with the sport, and I want to help with that any way I can,” he said.

The 6-6 redshirt sophomore and former Florida Gators quarterback aired the ball out for 3,587 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons of high school at Tennessee’s Brentwood Academy. Those numbers lit up the radar of a number of FBS schools, including Michigan State, Mississippi State and Florida. Staver settled on Gainesville due in part to a strong rapport developed with Brent Pease, the Gators’ offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, Pease was dismissed after Florida went a disappointing 4-8 in 2013.

ASN-Graduate-Refer“They made a decision to change their offensive philosophy but [head coach Will] Muschamp told me he wanted me to stay,” said Staver.

The quarterback felt he wasn’t a good fit for the spread offense being introduced and departed for first East Mississippi Community College and then for a brief, injury-hampered stay at Texas’s Trinity Valley Community College. He played one game at Trinity Valley, but by crossing into Texas at Trinity Valley he effectively put himself on the Huskies’ watch list.

HBU head coach Vic Shealy wanted to increase competition at the quarterback spot after the team’s first official campaign in 2014.

“We visited junior colleges in California, Mississippi and Texas, and Max quickly rose to the top of our list,” said Shealy. “Talking with him on the phone throughout the entire recruiting process was as enjoyable — from both a personal and coaching side — as any guy who I’ve ever recruited in my 30 years.”

In the Ivy League, Columbia quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg is another former Gator making good. Although the Lions are winless this year they have an experienced hand with work against some of the nation’s best teams on his résumé. Columbia offensive coordinator Mike Faragalli is thrilled to have Mornhinweg in his backfield.

“He’s a talented young man with a great work ethic. He’s very positive and a great team player,” said Faragalli. The 6-3, 218-pound junior has proven a dual threat for the Lions, averaging 4.6 yards per carry on the ground, and completing over 60% of his passes.

At Florida, he started the final three games of 2013 as a teammate of Staver’s. He went 44-63 with 344 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina and hit on 20 of 25 attempts in a losing effort to the 2013 national champion, Florida State. Mornhinweg brings a high football IQ to the team, as his father Marty is the quarterbacks coach with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and the former Detroit Lions’ head coach.

Mornhinweg will find himself across the field from another FBS expat in the Ivy League when Columbia faces Yale later this month. At the helm for the Buldogs will be Morgan Roberts, a transfer from Clemson. Roberts has seven touchdowns with just two interceptions this season to go along with 915 yards passing. He’s added another touchdown on the ground and has completed at least 25 passes in each of his three starts.

Roberts is a third-year starter for the Bulldogs and his 2015 numbers have him on the threshold of 5,00 yards passing for Yale (4,898). It is the second straight year he has the team out of the gate with an unblemished ledger after three games. At Clemson, Roberts was a 2011 redshirt for the Tigers and in 2012 played in just one game, going 2 for 3 in a 52-27 rout of Ball State.

James Madison’s Vad Lee departed the ACC not for more snaps, but for more passing opportunities at the FCS level. He arrived on campus from Georgia Tech a year prior to former Mississippi State quality control coach Brett Elliott. Lee was a two year starter for the Yellow Jackets, but seldom threw in the ground-focused triple option offense of head coach Paul Johnson.

This season, Lee is the fourth-leading passer in FCS with 1,896 yards.

Elliott is the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator for the Dukes and arrived from Mississippi State in 2015, a year after Lee’s arrival in 2014. He’s also found expanded opportunity at JMU as the offense’s primary play-caller.

“I was really lucky to get into this this situation,” said Elliott.”A very prolific offense, and a senior quarterback returning. I was really fortunate. Vad gets in and understands the game. He’s very easy to coach.”


Above: After transferring from Clemson to Yale, Morgan Roberts is on the verge of reaching 4,500 yards passing for the Bulldogs. (Courtesy Yale Athletics)
Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.