QB battle expected to unfold after FAMU’s signing day success

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Coach Willie Simmons knows what makes a winning football program and he doesn’t intend to digress from it. 

The main ingredient is having competitive players, including the 17 that the FAMU football team recruited on National Signing Day last week. Since last year’s record-setting quarterback Ryan Stanley graduated, the position under center will be one of the most sought after when spring practice begin on Feb. 28.

“Competition is what makes any great program,” Simmons said. “You want to continue to bring in quality guys. Every spring you open competition for guys. They understand they have to win their jobs back – the guys that are coming back as incumbents and you have a lot of jobs that are wide open with new guys. Quarterback is one of those positions.”

Coach Willie Simmons and his staff were celebrated for their success on National Signing Day.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Indeed it is with the addition of Kansas State transfer John Holcomb. He saw limited action last season at KSU. He went to Kansas State rated as the 13th-best dual-threat quarterback by 247 Sports in 2018.

Despite his accolades, he could expect Rasean McKay to be the biggest challenger, after spending last season as Stanley’s backup. He played in eight games and completed 52 of 73 passes for 538 yards.

Simmons and Holcomb have some history. Holcomb’s older brother Zarrian played for Simmons at Prairie View.

“We feel like he fits all the qualities and traits that we look for in a quarterback,” Simmons said. “We are excited to see what he can do, but it’s going to be a fierce competition at quarterback.”

The players recruited by Simmons’ staff were announced at a signing day celebration last Wednesday in FAMU’s Grand Ballroom. 

A highlight of the evening was an $18,000 check that the FAMU National Alumni Associated presented to Simmons.

Col. Gregory Clark, president of the association, said it’s just the start of giving that he expects to improve football facilities.

“If we give him the facilities, there is no telling what we can actually do,” Clark said. “He can flat-out coach, he can flat-out recruit. Now we just need to take care of him and making sure we can give him some money. Really, just put the resources in there.”

In addition to Holcomb, the offensive breakdown of recruits includes five lineman, two wide receivers, and one running back. Defensively, the Rattlers signed eight players, including four defensive backs, three linemen and a linebacker.

The biggest signee on defensive is Tray Bishop, a 6-3, 210 pound defensive back from Dawson, Ga. He played last season at Navarro College. The other seven signed defensive players include three more defensive backs, three linemen and a linebacker.

“Obviously we felt like we upgraded our team,” said Simmons, who led the Rattlers to a 9-2 season last year. “We had some areas that we wanted to address on the offensive and defensive lines. We feel like we upgraded the depth. We signed guys from all over the state, locally and down in Miami.”

In addition to the winning season, the Rattlers also claimed the Black National Championship. That plus publicity that the program received from Stanley’s success factored into what FAMU has been able to do during the recruiting period.

Now Athletic Director Kortne Gosha is expecting the team’s 2020 season to conclude with a trip to the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta. Their first game is in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami.

“This ride is special. We don’t have any NCAA issues” he said while referring to NCAA sanctions that kept the team out of the past season last year. “This road starts in Miami and ends in Atlanta.”

 The FAMU Boosters also praised Simmons’ recruiting success.

“The kind of recognition that we have gotten; you can’t buy that,” said Tommy Mitchell, executive director of the Boosters. “It’s now very clear that the athletes feel very comfortable coming to FAMU where they can expect to be a part of a winning season.”