He is no longer the chosen one, the golden child or college football’s most experienced freshman.
Those labels can no longer be affixed to Chason Virgil. The sophomore from Mesquite, Texas, is just another quarterback trying to prove himself in Fresno State’s spring derby.
Actually, Virgil stood out from the competition during Saturday’s open scrimmage at Bulldog Stadium. Not only by the five touchdowns he threw to three different receivers, but also by the gold mesh T-shirt draped over his green practice jersey.
All Bulldogs quarterbacks are protected from hits. The extra gold mesh serves to remind defenders to be extra gentle with the one who underwent surgery in December to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
“Oh, man it’s terrible,” Virgil said afterward. “I understand the reasons behind it, but sometimes I just want to rip it off. (Offensive analyst) Brad (Vonnahme) asked me today, ‘How long do you have to keep wearing that thing?’ Man, I don’t know.”
Hands off or not, Virgil certainly looked like the hands-down front-runner in Fresno State’s quarterback competition.
He’s got a great demeanor about him. He’s not an ego guy, so it’s been fun working with him.
Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, on Chason Virgil
Although Jorge Reyna, James Quentin Davis (who was absent Saturday), Christian Rossi and Virgil were introduced to the new scheme at the same time, Virgil seems to have the best grasp. At this juncture, the offense just looks sharper and operates more efficiently when he’s in the huddle.
“He sees a little bit more,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “Rather than just focus on what the play concept is, he sees things that are happening within the structure of the defense and is always thinking ahead. He’s a little bit more savvy about things.”
The play that best illustrates what DeBoer is talking about came early in the scrimmage. Facing third-and-6 near his own goal line, Virgil backpedaled to avoid the rush before lofting a deep pass that an open Da’Mari Scott tracked down for a long gain.
It wasn’t the sort of throw that always works out – passing late and down the middle is seldom a wise idea – but served as a reminder of Virgil’s innate playmaking skill.
Later on, Virgil threw some beautiful fade passes for touchdowns, one in particular to Delvon Hardaway was an absolute beaut, before closing the scrimmage with a 30-yard heave on the run snagged in the end zone by Justin Allen.
Virgil wasn’t perfect. He floated a couple of passes and telegraphed another during a 7-on-7 drill that Juju Hughes cut in front of and returned for a touchdown. But three weeks into spring practice and four months before the season opener, the starting job he held last season appears to be his to lose.
“It was good on our end, but I can’t take all the credit,” Virgil said. “The O-line did a great job. We ran the ball really well and that set up a lot of our passes. Our receivers did a great job making plays, too. It was a good day, but they definitely made it easier for me.”
There haven’t been too many easy days for this offense lately. By any statistical measure Kuwada and others throw out there, the Bulldogs have been one of the nation’s worst offenses two years running.
Swapping out offensive coordinators didn’t fix that. Shuffling quarterbacks didn’t fix that. Sticking with the same guy and expecting different results didn’t fix that.
If we still had the same coaching staff, I don’t know if spring would have been as productive. Even with the season we had. Just because guys need to prove themselves.
There’s no bigger reason why Fresno State is starting over, from the place new coach Jeff Tedford calls “ground zero.”
Even though there’s plenty of future in Virgil, he in many ways still represents the past. The Bulldogs are 1-10 in games he started, and he has yet to finish a season healthy. That’s a lot of bumps, bruises and bummer memories.
“I sometimes have to remind myself, ‘I’m not that old. I still have three more years left,’ ” the 20-year-old said. “But with this being my third spring … I definitely feel a little like a veteran. As I said, every day I come out to get better.”
Virgil could’ve put two painful losing seasons behind him by transferring, and few would’ve blamed him. He certainly considered it.
55.2 Chason Virgil’s career completion percentage over 13 games
That he chose to remain, putting his trust in a coaching staff that didn’t recruit him and has no real investment in him, required a leap of faith and belief. Faith in Tedford and DeBoer – two men he hardly knew – and belief in himself.
“It’s definitely different,” Virgil said. “When you have a coaching staff that recruits you, obviously they know your talent. You’ve amazed them with your talent. So when you come in you kind of have that on your side.
“When you have a new coaching staff, they didn’t recruit you so now you have to really show them your talent. It just makes us better, I think. Everybody is going hard because everybody has to prove themselves, which makes our team better in the end.”
When Tedford came in and cleaned house, many assumed he’d want to install his own guy at quarterback. Right now, it appears his best option is the one who’s been here all along.
- Saturday, April 29: Spring Preview, 10:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, Sept. 2: Home/season opener vs. Incarnate Word, kickoff TBD
- Saturday, Sept. 9: Game at Alabama, kickoff TBD
- Saturday, Sept. 30: Mountain West opener vs. Nevada, kickoff TBD