Washington QB competition getting started with spring ball

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SEATTLE – The first spring with Kalen DeBoer in charge of the Huskies is all about the quarterback and what direction Washington will go heading into the fall with three players competing for the job.

The program incumbents are two-year starter Dylan Morris and highly touted freshman Sam Huard, whose one start last season came in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State.

But Washington also added former Indiana starter Michael Penix Jr. in the offseason, giving the Huskies plenty of options to look at during spring workouts.

The difficulty is splitting up the reps during the limited time to gauge if there’s a leader going into the summer.

“That’s where it gets hard is now the reps are diminished among three guys. That’s the hard part,” DeBoer said. “But I know this, we’re just going to pour everything into trying to coach these guys up. That’s just how I’ve always done it and it will shake itself out.”

Penix could be the leader because of what happened three years ago when he was the QB at Indiana and DeBoer was his offensive coordinator. Penix started six games that season and the Hoosiers were 5-1. His numbers weren’t eyepopping but they were solid enough – 1,394 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions – to show he had a solid grasp of the system.

Penix and DeBoer were together for only one season before DeBoer returned to Fresno State to become the head coach of the Bulldogs. But the relationship created was strong enough that Penix chose Washington over other suitors when he decided to transfer.

“Coach DeBoer already being with me at Indiana in 2019, I just felt like we had a good connection,” Penix said Friday after the second of Washington’s spring practices. “I love the offense that he brought over there for us and we continued to run that offense, so I felt like that was something I wanted to be a part of.”

The issue with Penix has been health. He’s never played more than six games in a season due to injuries.

Morris was the incumbent last season for the Huskies but he regressed from what he showed during the 2020 season and was eventually benched. Morris threw for nearly 2,500 yards in 11 games last season but also had just 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and a knack for making a mistake at the wrong time.

“Obviously, not the way anybody wanted it to go. But it was definitely eye-opening and a big learning lesson for me as a quarterback and as a man,” Morris said. “Just continuing to deal with some hard things and try to look that adversity in the eyes and just go attack it. And then leading into this season a lot of things I got to work on as a player.”

Huard is the most highly regarded of the trio. He was one of the top prep QBs in the country before his arrival at Washington and his father Damon and uncle Brock were former quarterbacks for the Huskies.

Huard’s only start last season was a rough introduction to college football, being thrust into the starting role for the Apple Cup while the program was in turmoil following the suspension and eventual firing of head coach Jimmy Lake.

While the blowout loss to Washington State was painful, Huard said he learned from the experience and the new offensive system plays more to his strengths as a passer.

“Competition is only going to bring the best out of me and we’re going to push each other to get the best out of each other,” Huard said. “That’s the way it goes.”

DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb intend to split reps evenly to start spring ball before potentially making decisions on a hierarchy leading into the summer. A decision on the starter probably won’t be made until August.

“You’ve got to try to create the most equal environment that you can and see who really rises to the top,” Grubb said. “And that doesn’t mean just reps. It means opportunities in scheme, opportunities in field position. So there’s a lot of thought that goes into it.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”