By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 23, 2016) — Head coach Todd Whitten says every position is being battled for during preseason camp at Tarleton State.
Among the most intriguing of those battles is quarterback.
Whitten and offensive coordinator Mason Miller began the season calling the quarterback position a four-way battle for the starting spot, but it appears in camp that the list of contenders to start the season opener Sept. 3 at McNeese State (La.) has been narrowed to two.
Returning starter Zed Woerner and UTEP transfer Garrett Simpson alternated practices leading the first-team offense last week, with Woerner looking sharp on three deep balls in the early stages of the team’s first true scrimmage Saturday morning. The other quarterbacks are Derek Kiser and Alex Craig, who each saw game time along with Woerner last season.
Whitten returned to Tarleton after coaching receivers at UTEP, but says his prior association with Simpson will have no impact on the competition for the starting role.
“I really think a lot of Garrett. I have no idea if he will be our quarterback, and he was never promised that,” Whitten said at team media and photo day. “I think he is a good quarterback, but I think we have a good group of quarterbacks on campus. That’s a strength for us right now. Whoever ends up being the starter, we should be in good hands.”
Woerner completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,165 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games last season. He says he doesn’t mind the preseason competition.
“For the program, it means building and getting better. It means progress,” said Woerner. “For me personally, it means the same thing. We have a new guy from UTEP in Garrett Simpson who is doing a great job and is a great quarterback. We have Derek Kiser and Alex Craig who came in and did a great job. I know they are all working and improving and I hope that I am, too.”
Craig played in seven games, completing 62.3 percent for 355 yards, four scores and four interceptions. Kiser, in two games, completed 64.7 percent for 230 yards, three TDs and two picks.
Simpson, a senior who stands 6-7, did not attempt a single pass at UTEP in 2014 or 2015. He was 3-for-3 passing in 2013 after redshirting in 2012. Simpson was a standout at The Colony High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Woerner is a junior from Marble Falls, Craig a junior from Dallas Christian and Kiser a sophomore from Burnet.
“We have four guys who can roll in there and do a good job anytime and that’s awesome. We’re just going to continue to grow and who knows, we may all four play in a game if that’s what we need,” said Woerner.
Miller used all three quarterbacks – Woerner, Craig and Kiser – out of necessity – injuries – last season. Despite going 3-7, Tarleton was able to put up good offensive numbers regardless who was under center. The Texans averaged more than 38 points and 480 yards per game.
But Whitten was not one to rotate quarterbacks when he was at Tarleton in 1996 and again from 2000-04. He has had some good ones at Tarleton, with Steve Kelly leading the Texans to their first share of a conference title and on to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in 2001 and Cliff Watkins guiding the Texans back to the national playoffs in 2004.
Woerner hopes whoever the starter is – and whoever else may see time behind center – they can replicate such success. He also says the other three will be right there to support that quarterback.
“Right now we’re just four guys battling for a spot, Woerner aded. “Whoever gets it, we’ll all stand by him 100 percent.”