‘He earned it’: Jaden Rashada won Arizona State’s starting QB job with comfort in himself

Aug 23, 2023, 1:47 PM | Updated: 6:45 pm

Jaden Rashada didn’t necessarily have consistency on the field Wednesday for his first practice as Arizona State’s starting quarterback, nor has he been the consistent name expected to win the job.

The freshman, a coveted 4-star recruit, was blatantly told not to come to ASU by first-year coach Kenny Dillingham if he wanted to start in his first college season. The expectation was he very likely wouldn’t win the job with three veteran signal callers on the roster, but an injury to Drew Pyne and recent weeks of growth from Rashada flipped the script.

“That was a kid who almost got no reps in spring because he didn’t know what he was doing,” Dillingham told reporters at practice on Wednesday. “He started off as the (third-string quarterback) in fall camp, ’cause he was learning what to do, but he just kept growing and kept battling, and he earned it.”

And he did so because of a comfort in himself.

Somehow, Rashada had that comfort and consistency in his approach despite how he landed at Arizona State after an NIL-related whirlwind led him to de-commit from Florida.

Why does he think he got the starting nod?

“Just being a good teammate, just growing every day,” Rashada told reporters Wednesday, a week and a day before he’ll make a season-opening start against Southern Utah. “I think that’s a question moreso for the coaches, not for me. I really don’t know. Just came in every day to grow.”

It was Dillingham on Wednesday who did most of the expounding on why the Sun Devils will roll with a true freshman in 2023 — out of the gates, at least.

“I mean, his completion percentage in the last week-and-a-half of practices skyrocketed, you saw the comfort,” the head coach said. “And then you know how the ability to throw the ball down the field is obviously a huge complement to what we do offensively.”

Rashada fended off senior Trenton Bourguet, who completed 71% of his passes last season and received praise for his leadership abilities from Dillingham on Wednesday.

The young quarterback also skipped past Pyne, the Notre Dame transfer who has high-level college experience but injured his hamstring on Aug. 12.

As of mid-August, Pyne appeared to be in line to earn the starting job before the injury. Dillingham pushed back that Pyne missed an opportunity to start because of the injury.

“I think that Drew Pyne is coming here to compete,” Dillingham said. “He’s competing, he’s going to (get) healthy and we’re going to see where it goes. So I don’t feel at all for anybody… whoever wins the job, great. If you’re in your feelings over somebody else beating yourself out for a job at any position, this isn’t the place for you.

“Part of competition is responding to adverse situations, right? And then maybe your time will come, and (you’ll) be ready.”

Rashada certainly fits that identity to work on self-improvement, shedding a laundry list of distractions in the last several months.

He asked for a release from Florida and committed to ASU, where he had built a relationship with Dillingham as a quarterback recruiter for Oregon and Florida State.

Because of the reported monetary amount of Rashada’s failed NIL deal with the Gators, he took criticism and had his reputation tied to all the bad things of a quickly changing college sports model where athletes can make significant profits.

And then, upon arriving at ASU, there was the simple fact that he was a freshman with all the arm talent but needed to convince his coaches that he could learn quickly.

A few hiccups popped up early in practice Wednesday, but Rashada shook off those to finish strong, Dillingham said. The first-year coach wants his quarterback to lead his team for a full week to get rid of as many butterflies as possible before Aug. 31 against Southern Utah.

“If you think about that kid and what he’s been through and the last year of his life,” Dillingham said, “what the media thought about him, how the media slandered his name, whatever everybody did to Jaden and the fact he shows up every day, he takes reps with the 3s, he shows up with a smile on his face to get better.”

Added the even-keeled quarterback of this wild journey, where he will start at quarterback for his father’s alma mater: “I just think everything happens for a reason. I’m a firm believer in that. The journey to get here was crazy but it makes sense every day why I am here, and I’m beyond grateful for that.”

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