BLACKSBURG — Justin Fuente stuck with the front-runner.
Virginia Tech’s football coach announced Thursday that Ryan Willis will be the starting quarterback for the 2019 season-opener against Boston College a week from Saturday.
Fuente and his staff told the team of their decision earlier in the week after the coaching staff held a series of meetings to discuss each position.
Fuente pointed to Willis’ experience and consistency as key factors in the decision. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen provided a more detailed analysis of what set Willis apart from Tech’s other quarterbacks.
“He can make plays,” Cornelsen said. “He’s a really talented thrower. He’s got good instincts. The game’s not too fast for him. … He’s accurate with the ball. He’s got a really strong, quick release. Instinctively in the passing game, anticipating windows, the touch on the ball, all those little things about throwing the ball, he’s got.
“He’s got that talent.”
Getting the nod is nothing new to Willis, who has been named a starting quarterback four times in his college career (either as the opening day starter or as an in-season replacement) going back to his freshman year at Kansas in 2015. Willis arrived in Blacksburg as a transfer without a scholarship when the Jayhawks decided to go in a different direction at the position.
“This is my fourth year being a starting Division I quarterback,” Willis said. “Not many people can say that. That’s a pretty cool position to be in. I’ve got through a lot of stuff. Ups and downs, ups and downs. The one thing that has remained constant the whole time is my love for the game. I love football. I love stepping on the field and competing. And I’m going to do everything I can for this team.”
After sitting out a year and earning a scholarship, Willis said he wasn’t sure if he would ever start another college game.
“I’m human,” Willis said. “We’re all emotional people. We have emotional feelings. We get knocked down and you’ve got to pick yourself back up. Nothing is easy. I definitely haven’t taken the easiest route. I’ve really never had anything handed to me from the get-go. It made me the person I am today and I don’t know. It’s tough.”
Willis threw for 2,716 yards (58.5%) with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions when he stepped into the starting role after Josh Jackson suffered a leg injury against Old Dominion in Week 3. He was 4-6 as a starter, but made key plays in the Commonwealth Cup and season-finale against Marshall to keep the team’s record bowl streak alive.
That experience gave Willis an advantage in the competition going into spring camp, but he had to outperform Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson throughout the offseason to win the top spot.
Tech narrowed the competition down to Willis and Hooker after the team’s first two scrimmages of fall camp. Fuente continued to praise the strides Hooker made during the offseason and named him the No. 2 quarterback.
“Hendon has put a tremendous amount of work in and has improved greatly,” Fuente said. “I feel really comfortable with him. … I feel really good about both of those guys. Quincy will be the third guy. He continues to work hard and develop. We’ll see how those roles all play out.”