The last time Temple head coach Geoff Collins stepped foot in South Bend, Indiana, he was literally a man on the run about 10 years ago.
“You probably won’t believe this when I tell you,” Collins quipped jovially. “I trained to run a marathon. It was back when the College Football Hall of Fame was still in South Bend. The starting line was at the College Football Hall of Fame and, 26.2 miles later, on the 50-yard line at Notre Dame Stadium was the finish.”
In just over four weeks, Collins will return to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since.
But when the coin is flipped into the late summer afternoon air right at the very same 50-yard line on Sept. 2, it won’t be the end of anything.
In fact, it will be quite the opposite. Because once that coin is flipped in front of a national audience, the marathon that is Collins’ head coaching career will hit the ground running.
But before Collins, the former University of Florida defensive coordinator who was hired to be the head man at Temple this past December after Matt Rhule took the head gig at Baylor, and his Owls battle the Fighting Irish in the season opener, there is still work to be done as training camp officially kicked off with Monday’s annual media day.
And Collins is doing that work his own unique way to help mold these Owls and the program itself in his vision.
And that includes the ever-present starting quarterback decision that is looming overhead as Temple prepares to replace four-year starter Phillip Walker, an undrafted free agent in camp with the Indianapolis Colts who holds the program records for passing yards (10,668) and passing touchdowns (74).
Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio are all racing during camp to earn the right to fill Walker’s cherry and white cleats.
Those four have combined in their college careers for five completions on 11 attempts, 69 yards and a single touchdown toss.
No pressure, right, guys?
How’s that going to sort out as camp begins? Good question, and Collins, per usual, had his own unique solution.
“One of the questions I preloaded is who is going to take the first snap [at Tuesday’s first camp practice]?” Collins said. “So, tomorrow, there will be four snaps that happen at the same time. At our practices, there are all kinds of drills going on at once.
“When we have the first snap, there will be four drills and the balls will be snapped by four different guys at the same time.”
Needless to say, this is the most pressing question Collins must find an answer for in the coming weeks. After all, it is the most important position on the field.
Russo, the 6-foot-4, Archbishop Wood product who was committed to Rutgers before decomitting and then rebuffing overtures from LSU before signing with the Owls in 2015, has all the physical tools of the prototypical pro-style quarterback and could be the favorite at this moment in time just for that last fact alone.
But the competition is more than wide open and live practice and scrimmage action will be the ultimate litmus tests.
And the name to keep an eye on isn’t that of the more game- and practice-seasoned Nutile or Marchi. Instead, it’s that of the true frosh Centeio.
The Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native burst onto the scene with an impressive, poised performance during April’s spring game. Your eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to him on the Chodoff Field turf that day with precision passes, heady check-downs and smart, efficient scrambles out of the pocket.
As you may have guessed, the coaching staff saw all of that in Centeio that day, and even more since.
“When you start evaluating quarterbacks and start talking about personalities, you say is he a kid that gets it? Does he have ‘it’? And [Centeio] does,” new Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, nee of Coastal Carolina, said.
“He’s got a little bit of swagger to him. He’s got confidence in his ability. He’s a good athlete. He’s very bright and did very well in the classroom. … But he gives us a dynamic that maybe some of the other guys don’t — when the play breaks down, he can make plays with his feet. He’s a very willing runner.”
Patenaude said his hope is to have a decision on a lead horse down two weeks before the flight to South Bend. In the meantime, he has plenty he wants to see out of all four guys.
“A big piece of it is the stage isn’t going to be too big for them when they go to Notre Dame,” he said. “A big part of it is how they can handle the offense, what their demeanor is, how they can run the offense, get us in and out of checks, be able to handle themselves, not get too caught into the emotion of it.”
The other side of the equation here is made up of the guys who will be catching the passes thrown by whomever gets crowned the starter.
Guys such as Keith Kirkwood, Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings had been working with and catching passes thrown by Walker for the better part of two or three years. The chemistry was there in the blink of an eye. The intricacies of how each player works were there in a snap of a finger or, literally, in the flick of a wrist.
Not so much anymore as the wideouts will be tasked with getting on the same page with the new starter. That’s much easier said than done. And that’s why all these upcoming camp reps with all four QBs are so important.
“We have four quarterbacks, each and every one has a unique position and unique talent,” Kirkwood said. “Whoever plays on this field, every single player I feel has something to bring to this team and have a productive year.”
But still, that noise you hear overhead of 10th and Diamond Streets?
It isn’t the SEPTA train rolling by every so often above.
It’s the hands of the quarterback decision clock ticking.