Joe Santoro: Next up on the Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback merry-go-round? | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Next up on the Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback merry-go-round?

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong passes in the rain against Hawaii on Sept. 28 in Reno.
Tom R. Smedes/AP | FR171463 AP

When Jay Norvell and Matt Mumme came to Northern Nevada to be the caretakers of the Nevada Wolf Pack football team’s offense in December 2016 we thought one thing was certain. We assumed that the position of quarterback, which Chris Ault protected and nurtured with his coaching life for the most part from 1976-2012, was in good hands. Norvell and Mumme, though, have repeatedly turned the position into an American Idol audition. Ty Gangi, Kaymen Cureton, Cristian Solano and Carson Strong have all started at quarterback for Norvell and Mumme. Another quarterback, David Cornwell, left Alabama to come to Nevada as Norvell and Mumme’s first recruit and ended up quitting the program four games into his first season. Another quarterback, Griffin Dahn, left this past offseason. Cureton is now a backup to the backup defensive backs. And, now, just five games into Year Three of the Norvell-Mumme Air Raid Disaster, the process is repeating itself. Strong, a freshman, junior Malik Henry and Solano, now a sixth-year senior, have been put on the Norvell-Mumme quarterback merry-go-round and the one who grabs the brass ring will start in the Pack’s next game Oct. 12 against San Jose State.

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The only time there has been stability in the quarterback position the last two-plus seasons, Norvell and Mumme didn’t really have a chance to tinker with it. Gangi took over after Cornwell quit and Cureton showed he was a defensive back, and kept the starting job from the middle of 2017 throughout 2018. And that is only because there really wasn’t a viable quarterback on the bench. Yes, of course, Norvell and Mumme tinkered with the position once last year during Gangi’s senior year, because, well, that’s what they do. They kept Gangi on the bench because of some mysterious one-game ailments in the most important game of the year against Fresno State last year. Solano started and produced three points. Norvell and Mumme pulled the same move again this year (taking Strong out of his starting role because of some mystical one-game reasons and inserting Solano) at UTEP. It didn’t hurt against UTEP (nothing, after all, ever hurts against UTEP) but Strong miraculously recovered from his ailments and returned against Hawaii last week. He proceeded to look like a guy whose confidence was left on the bench against UTEP.

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Strong has started four times and played 3 ½ of the Pack’s five games this season. Solano has started once and has played 1 ½ of the five games. Henry has yet to start and has thrown just three passes. Who will start against San Jose State? If the Pack was happy with either Strong or Solano it likely would not be conducting this distracting in-season quarterback competition. So it makes sense that it is finally Henry’s turn to start. But, as we know, making sense at quarterback has not been a constant under Norvell and Mumme. Henry, who has bounced around repeatedly during his high school and college career, has seemingly not been happy anywhere. If he doesn’t start now, will he ever start at Nevada? The merry-go-round might be spinning out of control.

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Strong has played 14 quarters this season and has only looked good in one of them, the fourth quarter in the season opener against Purdue. Solano has played six quarters and basically has looked the same in all of them, like a guy who is running somebody else’s offense. Solano is a running quarterback and the Air Raid barely allows its running backs to run. Strong is a fragile freshman who has been kept out of one game altogether and pulled from another right before halftime. That leaves Henry, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior that Florida State once thought was the future of their offense. That alone makes him intriguing for Nevada. Why not see if Florida State was right all along?

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Henry came to Nevada with a ton of baggage. He attended four high schools. He left Florida State after just one year. He was featured on the television show Last Chance U and came off looking in front of the whole country as a selfish, spoiled, egotistical waste of talent. Henry left Florida State and went to Independence Community College (who does that?) and publicly criticized his coaches. He came to Nevada and couldn’t beat out a freshman for the starting job. “There’s more to playing quarterback than what you do in practice,” Norvell said. “We just want Malik to do the things on and off the field that give us all the confidence he can be trusted. We’ve all wanted to play Malik more. We just haven’t had that opportunity to make it happen.” This week might be Henry’s true last chance.

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Henry might turn out to be great. Norvell has shown tremendous faith in the young man and has given him an opportunity when most of college football wouldn’t touch him. Strong might turn out to be the right choice all along. But if he sits the bench the rest of the year he might be a part of a different football program next year. Solano is the safest choice of the three — he’ll complete a few passes and run for a few first downs — but might have the lowest ceiling. These are the choices Norvell has this week. It’s a decision that could either save or destroy his future as the Pack head coach. So, yeah, no pressure.

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Players do not sit on the bench anymore for long, hoping and praying coaches notice how hard they are practicing with the hope of someday getting into the starting lineup. They jump into the NCAA transfer portal and go somewhere else. It has happened repeatedly to Norvell in the past couple seasons. McLane Mannix, David Cornwell, Jaxson Kincaide, Nephi Sewell, James Butler, Trevion Armstrong, Griffin Dahn, Dylan Porter and others all left. Gabe Sewell looked to leave but stayed. Who knows how many Norvell has talked off the NCAA transfer portal ledge? The two quarterbacks that do not start against San Jose State might do the same. If you are a parent you know how tough it is to keep your children happy. Imagine if you had five dozen or so children.