Arizona State’s additions of redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett, who played at Alabama the beginning of last season, and freshman Ryan Kelley, have certainly added some intrigue to the Sun Devils’ quarterback situation.
What isn’t talked about quite as often are the four returning quarterbacks from last year. Redshirt junior Manny Wilkins, redshirt sophomore Brady White, redshirt sophomore Bryce Perkins and sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole will also look to compete for the job this season.
Wilkins won the starting spot coming into last season but finds himself in an open competition for the job for the second straight year. The dual-threat quarterback isn’t one to feel sorry for himself, however, instead choosing to take the challenge in stride.
“It’s who I am,” Wilkins said at Wednesday’s spring football mini media day. “I was built for this. Competition is gonna be every year. Competition is gonna be every day. I’m just gonna put my head down, do what I do, go to work.”
“Nothing changes my mindset,” he added. “I’ll just continue to build myself as a player, build myself as a quarterback, obviously continue to build my leadership level on this team.”
Last season, Wilkins completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 2,329 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also added 246 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Like Wilkins, competition is nothing new to White, who contended with Wilkins and Perkins for the job last offseason.
“The only change is that there is one more guy,” White said. “But I didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s part of the business. It’s just like bringing a freshman in. It’s just another quarterback on the roster. Now he’s a good one obviously. He’s highly touted. But Division I football, these coaches’ jobs are on the line. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not a fashion show. It’s about, at the end of the day, who gets the job done.”
White stepped in when Wilkins was injured against USC. He completed 25-of-49 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in relief against the Trojans and then the next week against UCLA before injuring his foot against the Bruins.
“I think Blake coming in raises the level of competition definitely, which is a good thing,” he said. “We’re just gonna take it on again. It’s another quarterback competition, just like last year… We’re all here for a reason. We’re all really good at throwing the ball.”
One unexpected starter from last season was Sterling-Cole. After Wilkins went down again against Washington State, with White already out, he came in, and the true freshman predictably struggled. Sterling-Cole completed 50.9 percent of his passes and threw for 388 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in parts of four games. He added a rushing touchdown in his start at Oregon as well.
“I’m preparing for this competition like no other,” Sterling-Cole said. “I’m working on improving my mental approach for every game. As a physical attribute, I plan on working on passing precision. I’m not trying to be cocky or anything, but I definitely feel like I have arm strength, and I’m able to put the ball where I need it. In order to do that, I have to be precise with the ball, and that’s something I’m working on.”
Sterling-Cole believes he learned through his trial-by-fire as a true freshman last season.
“Throughout the season, I had my ups-and-downs where I didn’t know what to do or how to handle certain situations, and I failed at times,” he said. “But, from then on, I knew what I needed to do in order to grow as a young man.”
The only returning quarterback to not play last season, Perkins missed the year due to a neck injury after battling for the starting role in the offseason.
“I compete every day within myself trying to get better,” Perkins said. “Regardless of what happens, what the outside factor is, I give 100 percent all the time.”
Although none of the quarterbacks seem intimidated by the incoming transfer, there are a couple things Barnett potentially has over the others.
First off, coming out of high school, Barnett was a five-star recruit, while Wilkins and White were four-star prospects, and Sterling-Cole, Perkins and Kelley were all rated three stars.
It also must be pointed out that Arizona State’s new offensive coordinator, Billy Napier, comes over from Barnett’s former school of Alabama, although he has promised that will have no impact on the competition.
Barnett towers over the others in another way as well.
“He’s tall,” both Sterling-Cole and Perkins astutely pointed out of the 6-foot-5 passer.