Quarterback Royal Ready to Lead Rattlers in Wood’s Scheme
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Of all the questions that the Florida A&M football team has to answer this season none stand out like concerns about the Rattlers’ strength at quarterback.
Carson Royal, a back-up for the past two seasons, might just be the answer. At least anyone who saw his offseason preparation would agree.
The tumultuous 2014 season of position coaching changes and eventually the firing of Earl Holmes was barely over. But Royal was often seen jogging on FAMU’s campus, along Wahnish Way.
All the time, he said, he felt that even with Alex Wood as the Rattlers’ new coach, he had a pretty good shot at being the quarterback to beat for the starting job.
“That really got me mentally prepared,” Royal said, explaining his offseason preparation. “It was like, OK, this is my team now and I’m going to make this Rattlers football team better and get it back to where it was in the past, doing great things. I know I can’t control anybody on my team but I can motivate them to get better.
“I knew that from that Day One time was ticking and Sept. 5 wasn’t going to be waiting on me. I had to go and work for it.”
The Rattlers open the season on Sept. 5 against the University of South Florida in Tampa.
While Royal has the starting quarterback role locked down, it won’t be his first start when the season opens. Two seasons ago, he finished out the Rattlers’ last three games as starter while Damien Fleming sat out with an injured foot.
He also made a handful of cameo appearances in five other games. In all, he threw for 358 yards, completing 30 of 65 attempts, with four touchdowns.
After wrapping up the second week of fall camp, there wasn’t one iota of doubt as Wood was faced with the question of his quarterback’s ability.
Wood was especially certain after evaluating Royal in spring camp and hearing about his leadership during the team’s unsupervised summertime workouts.
“We found that he has a very broad sense of football in terms of how you operate an offense,” Wood said. “He has been coached before he got here so he has a very good idea about the game. We just have to make sure that he sees it the same way that we see it.”
That sort of cohesion has taken time because of the no-huddle scheme that Wood introduced on his arrival. It requires his players to do away with play cards and rely on memorizing signals to execute an up-tempo offense.
That called for making sure that offensive coordinator Martin Spieler’s scheme was one that suits Royals’ skills, Wood said.
“Our system has always been quarterback-friendly; it has to be,” Wood said. “As you build any system it would be because there is only a handful of guys with that unique quality that can play quarterback.”
While Wood found that Royal had those qualities, he had to be patient at first.
“He (Royal) didn’t start off like gangbusters, but he is really honed in now,” Wood said. “I think the thing that helped him is staying here during the summer.”
Wood wasn’t shy in saying that he expects Royal to throw the ball at least 50 percent of the time in a game. The other half of their plays will be left to the running backs.
Undoubtedly, sophomore running back Gerald Hearns will be the workhorse out of the backfield. He welcomed Wood’s system because it’s similar to what he played at Dwyer High School.
“Coming from a disciplined program, I can relate to it a lot,” he said. “With our new coaching staff, it makes it a lot easier for me. I love the up-tempo and making defenses scared because they don’t know what we are doing. I’m loving it.”
The bottom line, though, is that it all comes down to Royal, who has made a big impression on his receivers.
“He’s become better,” said Brandon Norwood, who led the Rattlers receiving corps with 36 catches for 516 yards for an average of 43 yards per game. “He is a better leader and he’s leading everybody on the right path. His confidence is way higher. He is trusting us and we are trusting him.”