Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson arrived for Monday’s training camp practice assuming it would be another opportunity for him to separate himself in the competition for starting quarterback.
Coach Justin Fuente instead informed Jackson the job was his. Then roughly an hour after that conversation, Jackson was standing at the podium addressing the media about the choice to name him as the starter over AJ Bush and Hendon Hooker.
“I felt like I was playing well in camp,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t sure what the time frame was. I just focus on getting better every day.”
Fuente’s announcement comes three weeks prior to the Hokies’ season opener Sept. 3 against West Virginia at FedEx Field.
“I’ve been pleased with his consistency, his demeanor,” Fuente said. “He’s got a great understanding of what we’re trying to do. He’s got a great competitive spirit. Day in and day out, he’s been the most consistent, and it’s time for us to get that first unit working together.”
Although there was an open competition for starting quarterback at the beginning of camp, Jackson (6 feet 1, 217 pounds) entered with the advantage of having observed firsthand the offensive system by traveling with the team last season.
Under 2016 starter Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech claimed the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title in Fuente’s first season in Blacksburg. Evans set eight single-season Hokies records, including total offense (4,392 yards), passing yards (3,546), rushing yards by a quarterback (846) as well as total touchdowns accounted for (41) and passing touchdowns (29).
“I think he’s got some similar skills,” Hokies offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said when asked to compare Jackson to Evans. “He can run the ball. I think just running the quarterback in particular does give you some schematic advantages, so whether it’s exactly the same stuff we did we with Jerrod or similar, that’ll be a component of our offense probably every year.”
Jackson, according to several scouting services, was among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country as a senior at Saline High School near Ann Arbor, Mich. Jackson’s father, Fred, served as an assistant football coach at Michigan for 23 seasons.
Jackson is the first freshman to start at quarterback for Virginia Tech since Tyrod Taylor, who finished his career second in school history in total offense (9,213) and passing yards (7,017).
Fuente has a proven track record working with young quarterbacks. Then head coach at Memphis, Fuente tabbed Paxton Lynch to be the starter when Lynch was a redshirt freshman. Lynch went No. 26 overall in last year’s NFL draft to the Denver Broncos.
Cornelsen served as Fuente’s quarterbacks coach at Memphis for four seasons and was elevated to co-offensive coordinator in 2015.
“It probably happened a little bit earlier than what I was anticipating,” Cornelsen said of selecting Jackson as the starter. “I just works out differently every time. I don’t know if I can put my finger on one exact reason why.”
Bush, meantime, has emerged as the leading candidate to back up Jackson. The redshirt junior is a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, where he passed for 602 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games. Bush also spent two seasons, including his first redshirting as a freshman, at Nebraska but did not play.
Jackson becomes Virginia Tech’s third starting quarterback in as many seasons. The last Virginia Tech starter to play consecutive seasons was Michael Brewer in 2014 and ’15.
“I don’t really ever come to expect anything to be honest with you,” Fuente said of how the decision unfolded. “I really believe that you should go into it with an open mind and evaluate.”