Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell will not return for his senior season, leaving three young quarterbacks to compete for the starting job.
Redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson and true freshman Chason Virgil will take turns running the offense when spring football starts March 2.
“We have three young guys that have never really played a meaningful snap,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said Friday. “One guy has been playing in high school, one guy was redshirted and one guy played a little bit last year, so you probably start out very slow and try to put them in the best position to be successful, and at the same time they have to compete for the starting job.
“We’ll probably cut back, which we were going to do anyway a little bit with the install for the spring, and just have them go get after it. But that’s good. They’ll get what they earn. That’s the way it should be. If you take care of the football and move the team, then chances are you have a better chance of winning the job. If you turn the ball over and hurt the team, then chances are you’re going to be standing on the sideline next to me. That’s just how it goes.”
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Greenlee is the only one of the three to have taken a snap for the Bulldogs. He played in a backup role along with Brandon Connette to Burrell last season and was given an opportunity to win the starting job down the stretch. But Greenlee faltered when given a start in a 45-17 loss to Wyoming. On the season, he completed 18 of 41 passes (43.9%) for 213 yards and one touchdown. That score was one of the best throws by any of the Bulldogs quarterbacks last season — an 81-yard strike to Da’Mari Scott in a blowout victory against Southern Utah.
Anderson spent last season running Fresno State’s scout team. Virgil graduated early from West Mesquite High in Mesquite, Texas, in order to compete in spring practices.
For all three there is more pressure to get up to speed with the departure of Burrell, who is on track to graduate in May and decided to move on.
“I would say that Zack is obviously the furthest along just in terms of understanding what we do,” Schramm said. “Even Kilton, having been here for a fall camp, he was away from it most of the time because he was running the scout team and really hasn’t taken any reps.
“It’s starting from zero, and it will be good for those guys. They’re three extremely talented guys. I’m looking forward to it. It will be a good competition.”
Burrell, who came to Fresno State from Bakersfield College, won the starting job last season in fall camp. He completed 252 of 432 passes (58.3%) for 2,620 yards with 22 touchdowns but also had 18 interceptions during a season in which the Bulldogs passing game ranked sixth in the Mountain West Conference. He had a passing efficiency rating of 117.76, which ranked seventh in the conference and 87th in the bowl subdivision.
In a 30-6 loss to Rice in the Hawaii Bowl, Burrell completed 10 of 20 passes for 44 yards and took three sacks while throwing two interceptions.
“I’m very thankful for the dedication and determination that Brian Burrell brought to our program, especially this past season,” coach Tim DeRuyter said, in a statement. “He now wishes to pursue other avenues with his life and we wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
The Bulldogs could add a quarterback at some point in the spring, whether through a Division I transfer or graduate transfer such as Connette a year ago or a junior college transfer. Fresno State under DeRuyter has carried four scholarship quarterbacks among 85 total players.