Trying to unseat a returning starter, while attempting to hold off two other quarterbacks striving to move up the depth chart, is fine with UAB’s Jacob Zeno.
In fact, the Baylor transfer expects nothing different.
“I’ve been competing every day of my life – middle school, high school, when I first got in college and now,” said Zeno, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt junior from San Antonio. “That’s just a part of me, I’ve adapted to it. I don’t really look at it as a competition; I'm having fun, making plays. We’re going to push each other. It’s college, everybody is good. We’re just out here playing football.”
Competition for starting spots is taking place all over the field for the Blazers during fall camp. The quarterback tussle begins with returning starter Dylan Hopkins and includes Zeno, redshirt junior Bryson Lucero and junior college transfer Damon Stewart. Thus far, the separation is thin, at least with the top two.
“I think Dylan has had a great fall camp,” said UAB head coach Bryant Vincent. “He’s as confident and comfortable as he’s been since he’s been at UAB. He’s playing really well, he’s putting a lot of good days together and so is Jacob Zeno. Jacob Zeno is just right there. He’s a student of the game, he’s a worker, he’s a leader. He’s come out and stacked together a lot of good days. They just sharpen each other.”
UAB offensive coordinator Darrin Hinshaw entered this camp with the objective of getting four quarterbacks ready to play. He said the up-tempo, high-rep practice style, which was ingrained in the program by former head coach Bill Clark, helps accomplish that task.
“That’s what’s so huge here at UAB, what Coach Clark has done and what Coach Vincent has continued, where we got four quarterbacks getting reps every day,” Hinshaw said. “Four quarterbacks are getting better every day. That’s why it’s so important that you put yourself in position with that attitude that you’re playing in the game. You don’t know when your number is going to get called, you really don’t. I’ve been at situations, in different programs, where you have to use four quarterbacks in a season. You have to prepare them all to get ready to play.”
Zeno certainly has one of the two feature roles in the competition. The former four-star recruit out of John Jay High in San Antonio spent three seasons at Baylor. He played in just three games as a true freshman but that included appearances in the Big 12 championship game and the Sugar Bowl. In the conference title game, he was 2-of-6 for 159 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown pass. He played in just three games over the next two seasons and entered a transfer portal jammed with quarterbacks.
True freshman Jacob Zeno came in for Baylor and threw an 81-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt 👀 pic.twitter.com/pfzfHFyWmo— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) December 7, 2019
According to two people involved in his recruitment – Zeno himself and Vincent – two critical reasons were character and kinesiology.
Let's begin with the first one.
“We were on him for a long time,” Vincent said. “[Former UAB tight end coach Joe Craddock] had recruited him when he was at Arkansas. He knew his character, he knew him as a person. That gave us an early in. The more we talked to him and the more we recruited him, we knew he was the right fit for us at UAB.”
On the second part, Zeno is a kinesiology major with plans of becoming a physical therapist in the future.
“I did a lot of praying,” Zeno said. “I just wanted to find a place that accepted me, not only as a football player but as a person. School is a big part, somewhere I could still get a good education. UAB is one of the top schools in the United States in the medical field. That was a big thing for me.”
Zeno took a large chunk of first-team reps in spring practice with Hopkins sidelined after a left shoulder injury. That was helpful to get acclimated to what the Blazers run offensively and he carried that into fall camp.
“His work ethic is incredible, he’s up there learning the offense,” Hinshaw said. “He’s constantly trying to get better every single day. He’s got a great attitude, he’s on time for everything, he’s a leader to everyone around him. You can see that in his play from spring, what he went through with his growth, to now. He’s improving. At the quarterback position, playing the game is the most important thing. He’s competing with Dylan Hopkins and that’s what we want to see.”
At some point, Vincent will announce the decision on a first game starter. Classes begin on Aug. 22, which is often when programs transition from fall camp to fall practice. However, a starter might be named a few days earlier with the season opener on Sept. 1 against visiting Alabama A&M.
“It’s the truth, in football you are one play away,” Zeno said. “I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’m thinking about one play at a time and doing my job the best I can. Whatever happens, happens, I'm just going out and giving it my all every day.”
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