He’s considering making a fashion statement by wearing shorts, will keep his starting quarterback a secret, at least to the public, until kickoff, and had to adjust some things because he believes a couple of staff members from the opening day opponent were at his team’s spring game.

That covers some of the highlights of the first game week press conference for first-year Jacksonville State head coach Rich Rodriguez.

The first two things make complete sense, considering the weather forecast calls for a high of 87 degrees with 75 percent humidity for Saturday’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, and game planning takes more effort for the Lumberjacks if they don’t know who is playing quarterback. The third thing, though, is a bit different.

“Whether it’s true or not, a pretty good source said it’s true, they had a couple of staff members at our spring game, which is not really supposed to happen,” Rodriguez said. “We’re making plans accordingly. If they’re over there thinking they have our plays and what have you, we (changed it up).”

That’s just the start, apparently. Rodriguez said within the last week, they’ve also caught two people filming during practice. He said his daughter, Raquel, caught the first offender. The second one had a scarier experience.

“I sent one of the biggest guys in our program, one of our assistant strength coaches (Cru Birdyshaw) – he’s about 6-7, 350, probably benches about 1,000 pounds or something,” Rodriguez said. “Sent him up the bleachers to run him out, and that guy got out of here pretty quick.”

Rodriguez told the story in a relaxing manner, which he carried throughout his 20-minute meeting with the press. This is his first Jacksonville State opener. Obviously, it’s far from the first season opener for the former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. But, even for a veteran coach, there is a twinge of nervousness.  

“For the first game, I always hope that, as a coach, you have butterflies,” Rodriguez said. “The same goes for a player. If you don’t, then maybe you are not as invested as you need to be. There will be some excitement and some nerves. I have probably done this long enough that I don’t have as much anxiety or nervousness as I did when I was maybe 30 years old, but at the same time, I am anxious for this program to go out there and perform. I’m trying to temper everything because we have so many questions. Everything is new to our players. I go back to the first game of the first year is always the hardest. It’s a whole new system and all that stuff.”

That leads us to the quarterback situation. Redshirt senior Zion Webb was an all-conference player in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. However, an injury suffered in the spring season sidelined him last fall. The other two candidates are 6-foot-5, 230-pound North Carolina State transfer Aaron McLaughlin, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Te’Sean Smoot.

Want to know the starter? Buy a ticket to the game or tune into ESPN.

“Even if I know, which I’ll know before then, why would I tell anybody?” Rodriguez said. “You only have one game and one chance to do that. I don’t think it makes a big deal. We’re going to run what we run, no matter who is in there.”

Rodriguez said he expects more than one quarterback to play on Saturday.

“We’ll consider playing multiple guys,” Rodriguez said. “It sounds like coach-speak, but it’s really true. We told the whole team that don’t worry so much about where you are in the depth chart. Just worry about if we’re good enough to win with you. Some people say you got to have one quarterback and ride with him. I’ve never been that way. I’ve played two in the past, but we have to be able to run the whole offense with whatever quarterback there is. I think we have more than one that we can win with. Hopefully, we have three. I will be surprised if we don’t play at least two on Saturday.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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