When Utah State began spring football practice last week, its coach, Gary Andersen, caught himself wishfully hallucinating.
“I got sidetracked a few times seeing the number 12 out there and thinking to myself: ‘Wow, he is back!’ ” Andersen said. “He” was quarterback Diondre Borel, a three-year starter and multiple record holder at the position for the Aggies.
No, Borel, a senior in 2010, wasn’t really back; Saint Louis School graduate Jeremy Higgins, a contender to fill the vacancy, is wearing the No. 12 jersey now.
Among Western Athletic Conference coaches, Hawaii’s Greg McMackin is the only one who can pass the pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming test. Of the eight WAC teams, only the Warriors are set at quarterback. Only UH, which returns Bryant Moniz, has a successful returning starter. And the nation’s leading passer to boot.
It is a theme that runs through most UH opponents this year, in and out of the WAC. Not in ages — the bronze one, perhaps — have the Warriors entered a season when so many teams on their schedule were forced to reload at the position. Ten of the 12 Football Bowl Subdivision teams on UH’s schedule are casting for starting quarterbacks, including the first three foes the Warriors face — Colorado, Washington and Nevada-Las Vegas. For some, such as Colorado, which returns an occasional starter in Tyler Hansen, it figures to be easier than for others, like Washington, which must find a successor for four-year QB Jake Locker.
As the rest of the WAC opens spring practice over the next two weeks, the Warriors alone can count their considerable blessings at the position. That count is 22, as in the number of games Moniz has started at quarterback, and mounting.
“Having ‘Mo’ back is definitely a plus,” offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said. “It is nice having him back to orchestrate because he is so dialed in with the offense. He’s like having another coach out there at this point.”
While the Warriors are working to get their receivers on the same wavelength with Moniz, they also have the luxury of spreading around time and repetitions to the understudies without the pressure of selecting and preparing one of them to start the season opener.
To be sure, the Warriors have other issues, such as rebuilding the offensive line, but they alone among WAC schools aren’t conducting auditions for the most important position on the field. Idaho, for example, must replace a four-year starter at quarterback, while Nevada and Utah State lost three-year starters and Fresno State and San Jose State two-year regulars. Louisiana Tech spent all of the 2010 season looking for a quarterback solution and lost the best one it had. The funny thing is that once conference starts nearly 40 percent of the starting quarterbacks in the WAC this year could be from Hawaii. In addition to Higgins, there could be two Leilehua High alums, Moniz and Andrew Manley at New Mexico State, who is also bidding for the starting job.
At least the Warriors can chuckle about that. With a proven starting quarterback returning, they have a luxury most of their opponents can only daydream about.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.