Zion Webb will take the first snap for Jacksonville State on Saturday when Davidson visits Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium. Webb also took the first snap when the Davidson football team last visited the JSU campus.
A whole bunch has happened in between those two snaps.
Webb was sensational in the first meeting, throwing for 239 yards and his two carries were a 67-yard run and a 1-yard touchdown run. He led the Gamecocks to a dominating 49-14 victory over Davidson in the first round of the FCS playoffs during the Spring 2021 season. The next round, Webb tore knee ligaments late in the first quarter of a 20-14 quarterfinal loss to Delaware.
He didn’t return to the field until last week’s 2022 season-opening 42-17 win over nationally ranked Stephen F. Austin. He had a different head coach with Rich Rodriguez replacing John Grass and ran a new offensive system. He had nerves and rust. He had confidence and doubt.
Ultimately, he had a bunch of success.
“I feel like we came out to a slow start, could have been way better,” said Webb, a 6-foot, 200-pound sixth-year senior from Phenix City Central High, who accounted for 219 yards and three touchdowns in the rain-shortened win. “Blame a lot of that on myself. I’ve got to come back better prepared next game and be ready to play from the beginning.”
Chances are solid that will be easier on Saturday when the football is kicked off at 1 p.m.
“Being real human out there and me being excited to start,” Webb said, explaining last week’s slow start. “I haven’t played in close to year, maybe a year and a half. I think I was just very, very excited and I just can’t hold it in.”
Webb’s had his share of ups and downs since coming to Jacksonville. After redshirting in 2017, Webb spent the next two seasons playing in 17 games as the team’s backup quarterback. He backed up Zerrick Cooper in all four games the Gamecocks played in in the fall of 2020. In that final fall game, he came off the bench after Cooper suffered an injury and helped lead the Gamecocks to a 19-10 win at Conference USA member Florida International.
Webb became the full-time starter that spring and led JSU to a 6-1 regular season record. Webb earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors and was OVC Offensive Player of the Week three times.
By the time he returned to the field, Rodriguez and the new staff was on campus. He was part of what turned into a three-man race for the starting quarterback spot and felt comfortable in the high-tempo system.
“It’s an amazing system,” Webb said. “There’s always a check to a check. You can always find an open person, always find an open gap. For me, it’s eye-opening to see all the different opportunities it gives me.”
Rodriguez was pleased with Webb’s performance against Stephen F. Austin but sees room for improvement. Aaron McLaughlin, who played a couple series on Saturday, will get a chance to play and Rodriguez said Te’Sean Smoot is also progressing nicely. For now, though, it’s Webb’s show and Rodriquez will enjoy that show.
“I think he loves football,” Rodriguez said. “It sounds, maybe strange for a coach to say, on the college level, that you want guys who love football. I think we do. I think that’s a credit to the staff before, who had guys who love football. I think that where we’re at, too, in the state of Alabama, where football is important. It’s not like that everywhere. Nowadays, there’s a lot of guys who play just to play for someone else, other than the love of the game. It's hard, practices are hard, but games should be fun. I think Zion loves football and that’s why he's here.”
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