The annual Bill Dooley Pigskin Preview is a lighthearted affair in which coaches of the state’s five most prominent football programs get together in Raleigh to talk about the upcoming season and entertain those in attendance with quips about one another and the rivalries between their schools.
Little of substance comes out of such events and this one was no exception, except for one small tidbit mentioned almost in passing by East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery.
“We think we’ll be led this year by Raleigh native Reid Herring at the quarterback position,” Montgomery said. “He’s done a tremendous job for us in knowing the program and knowing the expectations of the program with leadership and leading the program on the field, but it will be a tight battle at quarterback.”
This is hardly a bombshell announcement considering that Herring is the only player on the current roster that has thrown a pass in an actual college game. He was also the most effective of the three scholarship quarterbacks in ECU’s spring game last April, completing 12 of 20 passes for 191 yards while leading the Gold team to three touchdowns.
Because of that experience and Herring’s knowledge of the playbook, it’s actually a smart move to give him such a vote of confidence at this time. Even if it’s as binding a commitment as a politician’s campaign promise.
After all, Montgomery didn’t actually say the redshirt sophomore would be the starter come Sept.1 against NC A&T. All he did was establish Herring as the frontrunner for the job heading into the start of preseason camp.
Or in more practical terms, he made the position Herring’s to lose. And make no mistake, there will be plenty of chances for him to lose it once he begins competing with prized newcomer Holton Ahlers and redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi.
“We’ve been blessed to recruit well in the state of North Carolina with Holton Ahlers joining us for this year and Kingsley Ifedi from Charlotte,” Montgomery said last Monday. “We’ve been very excited the past few years about being able to sign the two best quarterbacks in each class in the state.”
Considering how hot Montgomery’s seat is after two straight 3-9 seasons, he might not have time to wait for Ahlers, his highest profile recruit, to develop and start delivering on his vast promise. That was clear from the moment the D.H. Conley product set foot on campus last January and the fact that he was recognized at halftime of the spring game with an award for being the best newcomer during the Pirates’ 15 offseason workouts.
Ahlers put himself in the conversation for the starting job by going 12 for 20 in the spring game for 205 yards for the Purple team. Ifedi, who also played well that day by going 4 of 6 for 90 yards while also rushing for a touchdown, appears more suited for more of a change-of-pace or Wildcat role.
“I’m really happy with the quarterback position,” Montgomery said back in April. “That’s a position that can always either make you or break you and finally, we’re at a point where it can make us this year.”
Even if Herring does take the first snap, it’s almost a certainty that Ahlers will see some action right away thanks to the new redshirt rule that allows him to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
As was the case with Shane Carden and Rio Johnson in 2012, it might only a matter of time — or one slight misstep by Herring — before the torch is passed and ECU’s quarterback of the future becomes its leader in the present.
But while Montgomery would love for Ahlers to step right in and save the day along with his job, the last thing a coach in his position needs, especially at this time of the year, is to shatter the confidence of the one veteran insurance policy he has at the most important position on the field.
So expect him to keep talking Herring up as if his future depends on it. Because depending on how things go over the next month or so, it very well might.