Ryan Willis spent some time this summer kicking it with Patrick Mahomes.
He hopes that some of that Mahomes magic rubbed off on him.
Mahomes enjoyed one of the greatest seasons ever for an NFL quarterback, winning the Most Valuable Player award last season after he threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs. Willis more than likely won’t put up those types of numbers, but he desperately wants to enjoy similar successes.
First, though, he first must win the starting job.
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente kept the competition for the starting job open at the conclusion of spring practice, wanting his quarterbacks to continue to work hard, study film, and in general, get better. He also promised the ones behind Willis – Hendon Hooker, Quincy Patterson II, Knox Kadum and Braxton Burmeister – an opportunity to compete for the job.
“We’ll see how it all plays out through fall camp,” Fuente said. “Ryan was thrown into game action early in the season, at times played well [and] at times could have played better. The key for us, I think, is to continue to evaluate that whole position. We have some young guys that have been working incredibly hard, too. We’ll see how they do through fall camp [and] kind of figure it out as we get into camp.”
Still, the safe bet is on Willis earning the job. The fifth-year senior possesses the most experience, particularly after his 2018 season when he stepped into the quarterback job after Josh Jackson went down with a season-ending broken leg in the fourth quarter of the Hokies’ loss to Old Dominion. Willis’ success played a part in Jackson’s decision to transfer last winter.
Willis started the final 10 games of last fall, and he played well overall, finishing the 2018 campaign with 2,716 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His 24 touchdown passes were tied for the second-most ever by a Tech quarterback in a single season.
The Overland Park, Kansas product ranked in the top five in the ACC in virtually every passing category. His 226.3 yards passing per game placed him third in the league, while he finished fourth in both passer rating (138.0) and touchdown passes.
Perhaps more impressively, he played well in some difficult situations. He led Tech on a 98-yard march in the final minutes to lift the Hokies to a win over North Carolina. He made big-time throws to help Tech rally past Virginia. He threw four touchdown passes against Marshall to help the Hokies seal bowl eligibility.
“We knew the kind of talent he had going into the season,” Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “He had shown us at practice that he had a skill set to make a lot of plays. What we didn’t know is how he would take care of the ball, execute, and handle himself in those situations. I think he has played enough football and been through enough of those situations that he understands the game and what he needs to do in those situations. He’s got good instincts when it comes to those sort of things. I think we felt good from the very first start he had and the way he played.
“He got better as the season went on. He wasn’t perfect, and he still has a lot of improvement he can make. He showed us that he would take care of the ball as a whole throughout the season. That was exciting because he is talented and can make plays. I’m excited about what he can continue to do.”
Cornelsen also expressed excitement over the potential of both Hooker and Patterson, both of whom played a season ago. Hooker played in six games in 2018, and he rushed four times for 57 yards. He did not attempt a pass. Patterson played in three games during his debut season in 2018 and preserved his redshirt season. He played against Pittsburgh, Boston College and North Carolina, and the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder rushed for 25 yards on nine carries. He completed one pass for nine yards.
Both need to improve their accuracy and consistency in the passing game, but both possess a lot of desirable traits for a coaching staff that likes dual-threat quarterbacks.
“I definitely have a lot of work to do in that aspect,” Patterson admitted of his passing following the Spring Game. “I’ve wanted training – I’ve been here for a while, so they’ve been trying to push me in that direction, knowing that my high school wasn’t that type of school…. It’s my job to make sure I take it to that next level and be that person that could really do everything.”
As for the others, Kadum wasn’t highly recruited, but he put up some impressive numbers at Rome High School in Rome, Georgia, leading the Wolves to two state championships (Class 5-A). He threw for 7,400 yards and accounted for 118 touchdowns during his career, and he also guided the Wolves to 49 wins in his four years.
Burmeister transferred from Oregon to Tech earlier this summer. He played two seasons at Oregon, starting five games as a freshman in 2017 and overall throwing for 330 yards, with two touchdowns and six interceptions. As a sophomore last year, he played in four games, attempting just 10 passes. In two seasons, he rushed 71 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
Burmeister has appealed to the NCAA for immediate eligibility, but Virginia Tech has yet to hear back from the NCAA on that appeal. He may have to sit out this upcoming season, though he certainly didn’t work out that way over the summer.
“I thought he was very impressive,” Fuente said of Burmeister’s summer preparations. “We knew he was a good athlete. He is a studious person, a smart person. You really don’t know until you see someone go through some hard workouts and hard times. He rose to the occasion and did a really good job this summer.”
Tech’s staff plans on splitting the reps among all the quarterbacks evenly at least up until the first scrimmage later this week. After that, things get filtered out from there, but the Hokies appear to be in good shape at the position, with a proven veteran, several younger, high-potential players and a transfer with some experience.
Led by Willis, the Hokies have options – and at that position, that is a good thing.
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics