Chason Virgil will be Fresno State’s starting quarterback – the redshirt freshman earning the call in the Sept. 3 opener at Nebraska not just by maintaining a lead he had on the competition at the start of fall camp but by extending it.
“We knew Chason had an advantage having been here a year and a half now, having gone through spring in the system,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said Thursday. “But I think bringing the three quarterbacks in gave him some great competition, which made him push even harder, and he stood up to that competition.
“He earned the job. It wasn’t that we’re just selecting somebody. He clearly separated himself. If you look at the statistics, he had over twice the throws and less than half of the interceptions of any of the guys that were close to him. The longer we were in the system, the clearer it became.”
Virgil, who had played in parts of three games last season as a true freshman before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in a loss to Utah, clearly has advanced from the spring, pushed along by a complete makeover of the position group from the end of April.
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Virgil had competed with Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson, both of whom struggled to operate the offense a year ago in a 3-9 season and no longer are in the program.
Once summer school started, it was Virgil and incoming freshman James Quentin Davis with graduate transfer Zach Kline joining the group in July and community college transfer Christian Rossi in fall camp.
Chason Virgil hit 12 of 18 passes (66.7 percent) in a loss at Ole Miss last season, the highest completion percentage by a Fresno State quarterback with more than five attempts in a game all year.
“The player-run practices this summer really got him over the hump a little bit,” DeRuyter said. “From what I’m told, when Zach got here on campus, that extra live arm in there made him push even further.”
That time, Virgil said, has been critical in his development with the offense.
At the end of those 15 practices, the offense installed by coordinator Eric Kiesau still was new and the unit still was gaining a good grasp of new terminology, new concepts, new plays.
“We were able to improve on what we did in the spring,” Virgil said. “We were able to push forward, fix a lot of things and really work on our base offense and get that down; that way we can add variations or whatever coach Kies wants to do.”
Virgil also was able to get more work with the inside and outside receivers, tight ends and running backs, which paid dividends in fall camp.
He has a poise about him that is unique for a guy who really hasn’t played that much football. But the biggest thing is when he’s in that huddle, the guys have confidence in him and he lifts everyone to a different level.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on quarterback Chason Virgil
“We weren’t really able to work the timing of the routes in the spring, how the receivers want their ball on certain plays,” he said. “It was all just kind of thrown at us.”
Davis, Kline and Rossi, who give the group a great deal of arm talent, still are competing to see who will be the Bulldogs’ No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 this season. Of the three, Davis has the most experience in the offense, having arrived at Fresno State for the first summer school session in June, but he also missed time toward the end of camp with inflammation in his right shoulder.
“The other three, they’re all relatively close,” DeRuyter said.
Virgil – who was selected by teammates as one of four team captains along with senior wide out Aaron Peck, senior linebacker Jeff Camilli and senior cornerback Tyquwan Glass – last season completed 31 of 56 passes (55.4 percent) for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
His skill set fits the more multiple offense installed by Kiesau, and the quarterback has progressed while taking an overwhelming majority of the reps in practice with the No. 1 offense.
“I think the competition within the entire room has really helped Chason progress, just because now you can’t get comfortable and now you have to go out and compete every day,” Kiesau said. “I think you really saw Chason grow really from practice one running all the way through camp. His command got better, his decision-making got better, he’s picking up protections really well. He’s kind if putting it all together.”
In the two seasons since Derek Carr graduated, Fresno State quarterbacks have thrown 45 touchdown passes. Carr threw 50 in 2013, his senior year.
DeRuyter also applauded Virgil’s growth throughout the process.
“When he was out here early on, we were trying to divvy up the snaps a little more evenly than we did as we went through it later and he knew that he was going to have to battle for whatever snaps he got,” DeRuyter said. “He took it seriously and came out every day and worked it.
“He’s night-and-day different from a maturity standpoint, which I think is obviously reflected by the fact his teammates voted him as one of their four team captains, which to me is unheard of. I can’t remember being anywhere where a freshman was voted a team captain. He has a poise about him that is unique for a guy who really hasn’t played that much football. But the biggest thing is when he’s in that huddle the guys have confidence in him and he lifts everyone to a different level.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada