DALTON, Ga. - A quarterback battle is under way at Baylor, and it's the last thing coach Phil Massey envisioned as the Red Raiders went through spring practice.
The 2011 Division II-AA state runners-up were looking to replace graduated Matthew Oellerich, and the likely candidate appeared to be rising sophomore Nick Tiano, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound slinger. But a positive uncertainty arose with the arrival from Ottawa, Canada, of Michael O'Connor, a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder with similar skills.
"Michael has that typical quarterback frame that you see in college - the pocket passer with a rocket arm. We've seen it in 7-on-7 drills just among ourselves," Red Raiders running back Houston Clements said. "Everybody knows already what Nick can do. We've seen it in games. He's just a competitor and a good leader."
Competition is a dream come true for Massey, especially at the quarterback position, which figured to be almost as inexperienced as the team's offensive line where there is only one returning starter.
"We expect both to progress through the 7-on-7s and then battle once camp starts," he said of the two QBs. "That's what you love as a coach, and it could be exciting with the level of competition between the two."
Tiano has the upper hand at the moment. He's been through two spring practices and a season as a backup. He knows the plays, while O'Connor just arrived Tuesday and is learning on the fly.
"Michael has two practices under his belt," Massey said early Saturday afternoon as the Red Raiders participated in the Southeastern 7-on-7 competition. "His wheels are spinning. You have to hit the ground running, and right now he has no foundation and he's trying to learn on the run. Once we get into camp we'll have a better evaluation. We're going to put the best 11 guys out there [in the season.]"
O'Connor, who'll be a junior, already has five solid college offers - from Michigan State, Mississippi State, Buffalo, Toledo and Akron - but knows he's in competition.
"I think I'm in a tough battle with Nick for the starting quarterback's job," he said. "We're close in skill and I think it will be a good battle. The competition will be good for both of us. I might be a little tentative right now, but once I understand the playbook and the concepts, I'll be able to play without having to think about it."
Tiano is working on the physical and the mental aspects of the game.
"You always have things to work on, and I need to mature and get better at reading defenses, and I can always get better on my footwork," Tiano said. "I knew [O'Connor] was going to be a good player. I have just worked as hard as I could with the idea of competing once he got here."
It's all about competition, yet the battle of slingers might be determined by each player's ability to tuck the ball and run. Versatile quarterbacks have prospered in Massey's offenses.
"It's Nick's position until Michael takes it away," Clements said. "Nick's been here and has shown what he can do, but when you have a competition like this it only makes them better and everybody around them better."