Of all the concerns Scottie Montgomery has heading into his third season as East Carolina’s football coach, the one area in which he didn’t think he’d have to worry is quarterback. But that changed earlier this month when incumbent starter Gardner Minshew left school to deal with an undisclosed family matter back home in Mississippi.
Now instead of having a seasoned veteran on the roster to run the offense until prized freshman Holton Ahlers is ready to take over, Montgomery must find a leader from a group of untested quarterbacks that has thrown exactly one pass in a college game between them.
The competition between Ahlers, redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi and sophomore Reid Herring began Monday with all three sharing repetitions with the first team offense on the opening day of ECU’s spring practice.
“We feel like we’re pretty talented at quarterback,” Montgomery said following the workout. “I felt like that before (Minshew) left. I felt like that on signing day a year ago, two years ago. Now we feel like it even more now that we see all these guys out here.”
Of the three, Herring figures to have the early edge since he’s been in the program the longest.
A former three-star recruit who set passing records at Raleigh’s Millbrook High, he saw mop-up action in two games last season, throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass on his only attempt in a win against Cincinnati.
“He’s felt like he should be the guy for a long time now,” Montgomery said. “He’s getting a chance to get reps with all those one receivers and it really shows that he has a tremendous arm talent. I don’t know if he’s improved, because that’s not something we’ve seen to this point.”
The same can be said for Ifedi, a dual-threat athlete who was the first player Montgomery signed in 2016. He was thought to be ECU’s quarterback of the future until Ahlers came on board in December.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Ahlers has size, confidence and a cannon arm that produced 11,198 yards and 145 touchdowns in his career at D.H. Conley High. Despite having just arrived, he’s already emotionally invested in ECU’s program, having grown up in Greenville as a Pirate fan whose father is the PA announcer at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The only question surrounding his ascension to the starting job, it seems, is how quickly he picks up the offense and performs this spring.
According to Montgomery, he’s off to a promising start.
“He didn’t look like it was his first college practice, but it shouldn’t,” Montgomery said. “He lives right down the road. He’s been over here so much it should look like his second or third college practice. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got some good people pushing him. It’s going to be really good to watch his development the next 15 days.”
Should none of the three show enough progress by the Pirates’ Purple-Gold spring scrimmage on March 24, Montgomery could pursue a graduate transfer as he did last season with Thomas Sirk. But he’d prefer not to do that again.
There is also a possibility Minshew could return if his circumstances change, though it’s been rumored he’s considering grad transfer opportunities of his own.
“The door is open for him, whenever that happens,” Montgomery said of Minshew, who passed for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns while splitting time with Sirk. “But we’re focusing on what we have here. We’re excited about the style of quarterbacks we’re playing with right now.”