In a quick press release on Monday, the East Carolina Pirates changed the landscape of its football program with the news that quarterback Kurt Benkert would be transferring.
QB Kurt Benkert decides to tranfer from ECU program to "explore other options for graduate school" - https://t.co/m5vGqbyP1N— ECUAthletics (@ECUAthletics) April 25, 2016
Benkert, on pace to be the starting quarterback before injuring his knee in 2015, had just finished a spring battle with Philip Nelson for the starting job this fall. Both quarterbacks had their ups and downs throughout the month of practices that culminated with the Purple-Gold game.
While many felt that Benkert was the best option at quarterback moving forward, he had other decisions to make and is not longer part of the program. Many have wildly speculated about the landing spot of Benkert, but no one is certain just where he and his two years of immediate eligibility will end up.
Remember, just after the 2015 season, part-time starting quarterback Blake Kemp left the program. He had battled James Summers for the starting position all year long with both getting multiple starts as the Pirates offensive signal caller. With the addition of Nelson to the roster and a healthy Benkert back, Kemp felt that he would not have a chance to play during his senior year and moved on.
Then you have James Summers. He battled Kemp for the starting job all season until moving to a running back/wide receiver hybird at the end of the year. He is currently listed as a running back for the spring and beyond under head coach Scottie Montgomery. If needed, he could move back to quarterback
With Benkert gone, how does the quarterback position stack up for East Carolina this fall?
It looks like the starting job is Nelson's to lose. Once you get behind Nelson, the Pirates have a couple of walk-ons, a redshirt freshman, and a true freshman battling for the backup spot.
Philip Nelson, Senior:
The senior to be from Minnesota has been a bit of a football nomad throughout his college career. The three-star recruit out of high school spent two seasons with the University of Minnesota before transferring after losing the starting job. He then went to Rutgers where he lasted just a few months with the program. He was dismissed from Rutgers after being charged with first and third degree assault charges that landed the victim in the hospital with life threatening injuries. He got one last chance at college football last fall, joining the Pirates as a walk-on. He is a senior with one season of eligibility left and is expected to be the starter.
Jason Connella, Sophomore:
A walk-on quarterback from Charlotte, North Carolina, Connella is one of two quarterbacks on the roster to appear in a game in 2015. His only appearance was in a 44-7 win over UCF. Connella carried the ball one time for two yards in mop up duty. Connella is a sophomore and will be battling with Ray Smith and John Jacobs for the backup spot.
Ray Smith, Sophomore:
Another walk-on, Smith hails from Whittier, North Carolina. He saw action in the SMU and UCF games, but did not accumulate any statistics in either game. Smith has a year in the program and has shown some athletic ability in the past year with ECU. He is a sophomore and will battle Jason Connella and John Jacobs for the backup position.
John Jacobs, Redshirt Freshman:
A three-star recruit and the #19 player in Oklahoma in the class of 2015, Jacobs was redshirted as a freshman last fall. He was recruited heavily by Arkansas State, Troy, and UAB in addition to East Carolina. Jacobs got some attention from several power five conference teams, but none pulled the trigger on a scholarship offer. It would make sense for the redshirt freshman to be one of the favorites to win the job, but the backup position is fully open for grabs.
Reid Herring, Freshman:
The only incoming freshman quarterback on the roster, the ECU coaching staff has to hope he can be redshirted this fall. He had offers from ACC programs Boston College and Miami in addition to ECU. Herring has the size and skill to one day be the man for the Pirates, but needs some time to transition from high school to college football.