The heir apparent to be JSU’s starting quarterback is Coty Blanchard, but it’s not so apparent whether he will be back to take the job.
In fact, Crowe is making plans as if the two-sport rising senior will not be there.
“I don’t think we can really measure Coty, the percentage of Coty coming back,” Crowe told The Star. “I think some time in June we’re going to know, and if he comes back he’s the starting quarterback, but prudently I have to assume he’s not coming back ... with every desire and hope that he will.”
While Blanchard’s competitive personality is to want to play in the season of the season, his future best lies in baseball, and with a good spring, he could be a modest draft choice this summer. He was an early baseball commitment to Mississippi State in high school and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles after his senior year.
Of course, there’s nothing to say he can’t return to play football after signing a pro baseball deal. The Ohio Valley Conference has no rule prohibiting it, although league officials couldn’t immediately cite any recent examples of that taking place.
Blanchard has yet to go through a spring practice with the JSU football team and isn’t expected to participate this spring. Likewise, he’s never gone through fall practice with the baseball team.
He batted .335 with 32 RBIs as a freshman — starting all 57 games he played — after a comfortable football season that started with an Ole Miss bang. But the demands grew the next fall when he was thrust into the full-time starter’s role following Marques Ivory’s season-ending injury. He hit only .230 with 13 RBIs in the baseball season that followed, and the cumulative pounding he took rendered him ineffective by the end of the season.
The demands weren’t as severe this fall although he was still considered a second starter. A late arrival in camp due to his commitment to the Cape Cod Summer League, he completed 17 of 38 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 139 yards and two scores.
He has yet to make a decision on his future and neither of his JSU coaches has pressured him to choose, and say they won’t.
“I wouldn’t put him in that position,” Crowe said. “I know Coty’s heart. I know if he can, he will; (but) he’s got to make a life decision.”
Blanchard’s father, Fran, a former JSU letterman, said his son would think about his future over the Christmas holidays.
A JSU football depth chart without Blanchard has rising junior Steven Coates at the top with incoming January freshman Jayce Barber and redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins bracketed behind him. Jenkins is versatile enough to play several positions and “needs to be in the mix,” Crowe said.
Jenkins was listed as a safety on this year’s roster.
Coates played at the end of this year’s Florida game when starter Ivory and Blanchard both were too sore to re-enter. He threw two passes and had one carry. His most productive showing in a JSU uniform was throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-19 passing in last year’s spring game.
“It’s a good situation,” Crowe said. “Number 1, we’ve got a guy in Steven Coates who’s been here three years; that’s a pretty good starting place.
“We’re not starting at zero now. We’re starting with an experienced guy, with an enormously talented freshman to compete with him and an extraordinary athlete bracketed to see where it all shakes out.”
Spring practice for the Gamecocks is expected to open March 14.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.