For Fresno State redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee, there is a significant difference between his last start at quarterback and his next one – which will come in the Bulldogs’ Sept. 3 season opener against Abilene Christian.
The ownership is different now, with another spring, another summer and a fall camp under his belt.
“I feel like I’m ready to attack this week and attack this game prep and be ready for this game as much as I can, be ready to put the team in the best possible place to win this game,” Greenlee said Wednesday.
That, coach Tim DeRuyter said, can only help.
This is what I’ve been working for; this is what I’ve been preparing for. It’s what I wanted.
Fresno State’s Zack Greenlee, named the starting quarterback for the season opener Sept. 3
“Any time you’re named ‘the guy,’ you own it,” he said. “We’re hoping now that he has been named the starter, everybody knows that he’s going to start, that he goes out and seizes it.”
When Greenlee made his lone start last season against Wyoming, the Bulldogs were 3-5 when they hit a bye week in late October. Junior Brian Burrell, who had started every game to that point, had stalled. He was completing only 56.4 percent of his passes and the Bulldogs were averaging 24.6 points against FBS competition. Brandon Connette, a graduate transfer from Duke who joined the team in the summer, didn’t have a strong hold on the offense and had been slowed by a hand injury. So the decision was made in the coaches’ offices on the second floor of the Duncan Building to give the football to Greenlee and let him take the Bulldogs as far as he could down the stretch.
To that point he had played in one game, a rout of Southern Utah, a FCS program. He had hit 4 of 7 passes, including an 81-yard touchdown strike to Da’Mari Scott in which Greenlee had executed flawlessly. Greenlee made the correct read on the safety and the correct checks and delivered a perfect pass down the field.
But with the bye week, the Bulldogs had an extra time to prepare for Wyoming, which also was 3-5 and on a four-game losing streak in which its defense had allowed an average of 41.5 points. With Burrell and Connette struggling, why not give him a chance?
That didn’t work out. Greenlee hit only 7 of 16 passes and was frazzled from the start. The Bulldogs scored 10 points in the first half, the touchdown coming on an 8-yard drive after Derron Smith returned a punt 52 yards to set up the offense for its first drive. Greenlee was benched at halftime.
In his three-game Fresno State career, Zack Greenlee has hit 18 of 41 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown.
“I think any time you have some experience, even if it’s a bad experience, it gets you over that initial shock of playing at this level,” DeRuyter said. “But that also told him that he wasn’t quite ready, that he had to work on a few things – and he has worked on those things.
“He’s still going to be a work in progress until we see against live competition how he does, but I like the progress that he has made. He was challenged. He was challenged in the spring. He was challenged in the fall. He stood up to the competition and fared very well.”
The Bulldogs, DeRuyter said, will play a second and perhaps a third quarterback in the opener against the Wildcats, and freshman Chason Virgil will be first off the bench.
Virgil, who graduated early from high school in West Mesquite, Texas, so he could enroll at Fresno State in time to participate in spring practices, is ahead of junior transfer Ford Childress at this point.
Virgil and Childress were unavailable to speak to the media – by team rule, players must first get into a game before they can field interviews.
But the task will be the same for all of them leading into the opener.
“This week,” Greenlee said, “I really need to just hit the film as hard as I can, take leadership of the offense as much as I can.”