TULSA — Whichever quarterback Philip Montgomery chooses to run his offense at the University of Tulsa, Golden Hurricane fans wouldn’t mind seeing just a little bit more Dane Evans.
A 3 ½-year starter, Evans became the school’s all-time passing leader before moving on to the NFL. He has a three-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the traits he so often displayed at TU will serve him well in the pros.
It’d be nice, too, if some of those traits surfaced in Chad President and Luke Skipper.
They’re the candidates to replace Evans this season, guys who are similar in their skill set and yet different, guys who are green and raw and new and are scouring their memory banks to recall some of the intangible lessons they might have gleaned from Evans.
“I think his leadership,” President said. “Seeing him off campus, for sure, always doing the right things and taking care of himself first and foremost. And then shedding a light on the young quarterbacks. On the field, his mechanics, how he approached every day, how the ball came out of his hand. You try to implement that in your game. He can throw it with the best of ‘em.”
“Having a guy like that, a leader on and off the field, it’s awesome,” Skipper said. “So much stuff. What all did I learn? I learned just being able to be calm in the pocket when it’s hectic around you, just having a cool head on the sideline when stuff doesn’t go your way, when you throw a pick or what not, understanding how everybody’s looking at you, from the water people to the people in the crowd to the people on TV. Everybody’s looking at you. So you’ve got to be able to have a calm, cool and collected nature about you at all times.”
Being a successful quarterback requires more than just leadership. Eagle Scouts and Congressmen may be great leaders but that doesn’t mean they can hit an 18-yard comeback or direct a two-minute drill.
Tuning into Montgomery’s message, then, is crucial for whoever emerges. Montgomery is something of a quarterback whisperer, having developed Kevin Kolb and Case Keenum at Houston and Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty at Baylor. Oh, and Evans. That’s a group that produced a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns (Keenum is the NCAA’s all-time leader) and a lot of wins — and even a Heisman Trophy.
And, as TU fans might hope, one of the first messages Montgomery tries to deliver to his new QBs is about Dane Evans.
As in, don’t try to be Dane Evans. Be yourself.
“Those guys don’t have to replace Dane,” Montgomery said. “One of those guys is gonna take over. We’re gonna grow offensively. I don’t want them to feel like they’ve got to fill those shoes. They’ve got to make this position theirs.
“I think when you approach it that way, whether you’re replacing a Heisman Trophy winner or a guy that set the career passing yards here, you can’t take on the job saying, ‘I’ve got to fit into this mold and what he did.’ You’ve just got to figure out your niche and how the offense is gonna work around you.”
The 6-foot-2, 226-pound President, a third-year sophomore from Temple, Texas, is compelling because he was offered a spot to play wide receiver at Texas Tech, but he wanted to be a college quarterback. Eventually, he got an offer from Montgomery at Baylor and committed to the Bears. But five days after Montgomery took the TU job, President flipped his verbal pledge to Tulsa.
He played in six games as a true freshman, mostly in a limited “wildcat” type package, and struggled with his throwing mechanics. He ran 17 times for 43 yards, caught one pass for eight yards and went 0-for-3 passing. In the 2016 season-opener, he completed 1-of-2 passes for nine yards and ran three times for 33 yards before a knee injury wrecked the rest of his season.
Skipper, a 6-2, 208-pound redshirt freshman from Forney, Texas, hasn’t played in a game yet at TU. He sat the bench last season studying Evans, but looked sharp during spring practice, including a 16-of-24, 173-yard, two-touchdown performance in the spring scrimmage. As a high school senior, Skipper amassed 2,706 yards and 33 touchdowns passing and 1,188 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing.
“I wish it was a clear-cut, easy thing,” Montgomery said. “That’s good and bad, I guess, because all of a sudden one guy’s really taken the reins and done it. But right now, there hasn’t been a clear, decisive break between the two of ‘em. So I’m still not sleeping.
“But I do feel comfortable that we do have two guys that I feel we can plug into the football game and feel good about. So from that standpoint, that’s a good thing. The flipside of it, you’d still like to have a guy and say, ‘OK, he’s our starter, this is the guy that’s gonna lead us down the field.’ We’ll get to that point, I think, but right now it’s just too early and too close to call. And I think both of them are growing at a good rate right now.”
Montgomery acknowledged that TU’s offense this year won’t look like it did last year with Evans as the conductor. It will evolve, as it has under all his different quarterbacks.
He also said it was possible that he could go to a two-quarterback system if there’s not significant separation this preseason. President is a little bigger and stronger, Skipper is a little faster. President is more conservative, Skipper prefers to take shots down the field.
“Yeah, I mean, we’ve done it before and been successful at it,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, you’d rather have a system where there’s one guy here and it’s kind of his and here we go. But if we get to a point where we’re playing two — and you may even go to the first game and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna play both of ‘em and see who has the hot hand and then ride the hot hand.’
“I’d like to have an answer before then, but if we don’t, if we get to the first game and we play ‘em both, I’m comfortable doing that.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.