LAFAYETTE — Imagine the sound of a room full of sports reporters simultaneously dropping what they’re doing and reaching for their back pockets.
“I actually know who the starting quarterback is,” senior left guard Mykhael Quave said. “Would y’all like to know? Give me a dollar.”
Who knew the answer to the question that’s hung over the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football program for the past nine months could be had so cheaply?
Quave, of course, was joking. He can’t reveal the name of the starting quarterback because he really doesn’t know who it will be. Only a select few do.
As coach Mark Hudspeth promised at Sun Belt Conference media day, only four people associated with the program know the starter’s identity ahead of this Saturday’s season opener against Kentucky: himself, offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, and the two men involved in the competition, Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon.
That day has arrived, as Johnson met with both Haack and Nixon on Monday night and relayed the final decision on a starter. Hudspeth wanted the pair to know the decision so the starter could use this week to mentally prepare for taking the first snap of the season.
Johnson left the meeting feeling that things had gone well.
“(Johnson) told me that they felt no animosity,” Hudspeth said. “I think they understood. They’re both going to continue getting reps with the (first-team offense), one a little more now obviously as we get into more details of the game plan. But it was positive.”
But the title could be somewhat of a formality. While a decision on the starter has been made, Hudspeth said, “There’s probably a 100 percent chance they both will play in some capacity,” meaning that both will continue to factor heavily into the game plan as the team prepares this week.
Now that they know who will start the game — and, based on Hudspeth’s comments, that they know they will both likely make their way to the field — both quarterbacks are relieved they can now direct their focus solely onto the challenge presented by Kentucky’s defense.
Nixon, for one, said he’s spent more time making sure he’s got his pre-snap checks and reads down than he has thinking about whether he’ll start Saturday.
“I’d just rather not worry about the competition and focus on Kentucky,” Nixon said. “I’m looking forward to going out there, playing in front of 67,000 and winning a football game. I’ll be happy if my team comes out victorious at the end, that’s all that matters.”
The competition itself was accepted by both Haack and Nixon as a part of the game, and both said the quarterback group has maintained a good relationship off the field throughout the preseason.
On the field, they allowed the spirit of competition to take over, and they think that helped.
Though they had to split practice repetitions fairly evenly, which could have an impact on their performance Saturday, they felt as though the competition forced them to be precise with the work they received.
“Just like the verse says, ‘Iron sharpens iron,’” Haack said. “Just going in every day knowing that you’re in a competition made each rep that much more focused.”
Not knowing the starter has required their offensive teammates to stay on their toes as well.
Quave said both quarterbacks have a unique cadence, which has taken some getting used to. Wide receiver Jamal Robinson has made sure he’s been on the field with Haack, Nixon and redshirt freshman Jordan Davis to develop timing with each of them and get a feel for how the ball spins off their hands.
The extended competition and uncertainty has required all hands on deck for the Cajuns to feel fully prepared for their season opener. But with that day rapidly approaching, Hudspeth likes where his team stacks up at the position.
“We’re excited about the direction we’re going, and we think it’s going to be successful,” Hudspeth said. “I think the guys are going to rally and play hard.”
For whomever that may be.