Each of the Washington area's five major college football programs is in a preseason of transition at the game's most important position -- starting quarterback. Continuing today, The Post will look at how, and with whom, each team is progressing.
Bobby Townsend knows what awaits him at Howard this season. As the replacement for Ted White at quarterback, Townsend is taking over for a player who re-wrote the Bison and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference record books.
Anything and everything Townsend does will be compared to White's achievements. He threw eight touchdown passes in a game last year and finished his career as the MEAC's all-time leading passer. But Townsend is determined not to let the comparisons bother him.
"The pressure will be there, I know that," said Townsend, a redshirt junior. "My job's not to be Ted White. I can't sit here and try to be Ted White. All I can do is be Bobby Townsend."
Townsend has never started a college game. In fact, he's barely played at quarterback, completing just 1 of 4 passes for eight yards last season. He saw time at wide receiver last year, making 11 catches, but most of his time at Howard has been spent watching White. He backed up White and practiced with him daily, demonstrating an arm arguably as strong as the former Bison who is trying to win a job with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It's kind of like Bubby Brister with Denver," Hampton Coach Joe Taylor said. "It's going to be tough because everything he does is going to be compared to a seasoned Ted White, which is really unfair because [Townsend] doesn't have a lot of experience."
Still, those in Howard's football program have plenty of faith in what Townsend will do.
"Losing Ted is a little bit difficult," wide receiver Elijah Thurmon said. "But we've got a good quarterback in Bobby Townsend, and I think we're going to do a little something."
Townsend will be tested right away, because the Bison start the season with a tough stretch of games.
The Bison open next Saturday at much-improved Jackson State, followed by dates with MEAC champion Hampton and Bethune-Cookman, which went to the Heritage Bowl last year. The fourth game is against Texas Southern, which whipped the Bison badly last year. A good start is critical to Townsend and the Bison.
"If we can get off to a good start, and he can get into the comfort zone then we'll be fine," tackle Levar Young said.
Howard Coach Steve Wilson is trying hard to reduce the pressure on Townsend by trying to build a more balanced attack. Junior running backs Jermaine Hutchinson and David Johnson should get lots of action.
The Bison relied almost solely on White last year -- he threw for 3,296 yards while Howard ran for only 1,646 -- and Wilson doesn't want Townsend facing that situation right away.
"He's going to have some difficulties, but once Bobby becomes comfortable with everything and gets into a rhythm, we're probably going to have another great quarterback on our hands," Wilson said.
Townsend will be a different quarterback than White, who was strictly a drop-back, pocket passer. At 6 feet 6 and 230 pounds, Townsend is two inches taller than White, much more mobile and gives the Bison more options.
"Ted was a pocket passer from start to finish, but Bobby isn't that," Wilson said. "Bobby is not going to be in one place. Bobby's going to be all over the place, and he's not going to do conventional things, and I'm not going to ask him to do conventional things."
That would include using Townsend at wide receiver occasionally. Wilson said he'll put redshirt freshman Donald Clark in at quarterback at times and move Townsend over to wide receiver, giving Howard three tall, fast players at the position.
As added pressure, Wilson said Clark is developing fast, and he could end up pressing Townsend for playing time.
While Townsend will be subject to a great deal of scrutiny as he takes over for White at Howard, it won't be the first time his performance on the football field has been closely examined.
While attending Central High School in San Angelo, Tex., he was involved in a quarterback controversy that drew national attention.
After being named a second-team all-district quarterback as a junior in 1994, Townsend, who is black, was moved to wide receiver before the following season and August Pfluger, who is white, was installed as the starter. The local NAACP chapter asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate charges of racial discrimination.
Central Coach Dan Gandy said the move was made solely based on football. Townsend briefly quit the team but later returned, and about midway through the season, Gandy moved Townsend back to quarterback and he and Pfluger shared the job. The Justice Department later said it found no grounds to file charges in the matter.
"It was a good thing that I got away from Texas because I know if I was in Texas, I'd be faced with that situation," Townsend said. "What happened, happened. It was an unfortunate situation and through it all, it made me a stronger person. It made me believe in what I could do and not what somebody else believed."
He believes going through that experience has equipped him to assume the starting role for the Bison and weather the accompanying pressure. He vows not to worry about his statistics and not worry about how his numbers look next to White's.
But he does want to win.
"I have to make sure the offense does what it's supposed to do." Townsend said. "I'll do whatever I have to do as long as we're winning. If I hit one of 10, I don't care as long as we win."