Coming off of a record setting season in 2013, the Old Dominion Monarchs were on a roll. They were making the jump to the FBS and Conference USA and had arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the conference on their roster, Taylor Heinicke.
Heinicke was heading into his senior season and the Monarchs needed a proper successor to follow in his footsteps. In stepped Class of 2014 quaterback Shuler Bentley. The highly ranked recruit had just finished a high school career that ended with 13,232 yards passing, 177 touchdown passes, and South Carolina Gatorate Player of the Year honors.
The pro-style quarterback chose Old Dominion over offers from Cincinnati and East Carolina among others. With Heinicke heading into his senior year in 2014, it made perfect sense to redshirt Bentley and groom him as the quarterback in waiting for 2015.
Bentley did his part and looked like the player to beat at quarterback from the beginning of 2015 spring practice. Things did not go as well once the season finally started. As a redshirt freshman, Bentley played in ten of the 12 games, making starts in eight contests. During that time, he was 140-269 passing for 1,432 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The struggles for Bentley were evident heading into a virtual must win game versus the Charlotte 49ers. Before the game, Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder announced that Bentley and converted wide receiver (a one-time quarterback) David Washington would get alternating series during the game.
That lasted all of two series as Bentley came out and led the Monarchs to a three and out, while Washington connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass in his opening drive. Bentley did not see the field for the remainer of the game.
Washington looked to have taken the starting job from Bentley, but injuries led to him missing time in the Florida International game. He later returned, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the Southern Miss contest.
When Bentley stepped in to replace the injured Washington, he looked like a completely different quarterback. He passed for nine of his 12 touchdown passes in late season games versus WKU, Southern Miss, and FAU.
His best moment of the season came in the season finale versus Florida Atlantic, a game that saw him throw for 287 yards and three touchdown passes. He also added his longest rush of the season in that contest.
So, where does that leave the highly-touted quarterback?
It looks like he will be in another battle to earn starting duties this spring. Bentley will again get every opportunity to earn the starting job in spring practice, especially considering that Washington is still recovering from a knee injury and will not be available in the spring.
There is some competition at quarterback with Bentley, Washington, Blake LaRussa, Drayton Arnold, and Joey Verhaegh all on the roster. In addition, mid-year enrollee Drayton Arnold and fall enrollee Brennan Lewis will also be in the mix.
Let's take a look at the quarterbacks in the running to start for the Monarchs in 2016.
- Shuler Bentley: Plenty has been said about the rising sophomore already. He is the favorite to win the starting position.
- David Washington: Held out of spring ball due to a knee injury. In a perfect world, he would return to wide receiver this fall instead of competing to play at quarterback. He has over 1,100 yards passing, 55 catches, and 666 yards receiving for his career.
- Blake LaRussa: The 5-10, 186 pound walk-on from Virginia should be a solid practice player for the Monarchs after redshirting in 2015. It is hard to envision a scenario that involves LaRussa beating out everyone for playing time this fall.
- Joey Verhaegh: A JUCO transfer that was part of the 2015 recruiting class, Verhaegh immediately faced a serious injury to his shoulder. The injury sustained during spring practice kept him out of the entire 2015 season. He was allowed to redshirt. How much arm strength Verhaegh shows in the spring will determine his role this fall. Right now, backup quarterback would seem to be his ceiling.
- Drayton Arnold: Another highly-touted dual threat quaterback, Arnold is an early enrollee that will compete in spring practice. The South Carolina native finished his high school career with 8,514 passing yards and 104 touchdown passes. While getting early work before a majority of the freshman class, Arnold would have to have an incredible spring to keep from redshirting this fall. He could easily end up in a similar position as Washington later in his career.
- Brennan Lewis: An incoming freshman and two-star recruit, Lewis is a pocket passer that threw for 8,703 yards and 83 touchdowns in his high school career. Unless something crazy happens, he is likely to be redshirted this fall.