Everyone hopes they won’t be needed, but just in case the unthinkable happens, Braylon Braxton and Roman Fuller each plan to be ready to go if necessary.
Many observers view the possibility of an injury to starting quarterback Davis Brin as a potentially disastrous blow to the University of Tulsa’s football fortunes this season, but backups Braxton and Fuller have improved considerably over the course of preseason camp.
If Brin did happen to get hurt when the Golden Hurricane takes the field for its season opener on Saturday at Wyoming (2:30 p.m., FS1), Braxton would step in next. He is preparing as if he will.
“I just have the next-man-up mentality, because they always tell you you’re one play away every game,” said Braxton, who is from Frisco, Texas. “I just come into the game knowing that it’s not me, but it could be. So I just prepare like it is me.”
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Braxton is a redshirt freshman, but he actually has a bit of experience, getting into four games last season, rushing nine times for 38 yards but not attempting a pass. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound dual threat even scored his first career touchdown on a 3-yard run that gave TU a 28-17 third-quarter lead over SMU in a game it eventually won, 34-31. Fuller, a redshirt sophomore, played just two snaps at the end of the Houston game last year.
Coach Philip Montgomery acknowledges that Brin is the obvious starter, but he is happy with where his backups are right now.
“I feel good about our quarterback room,” Montgomery said. “We’re younger in there. Obviously, Braylon got some experience last year in certain packages and certain schemes. I think he and Roman have really done a nice job of continuing to compete, working for each other. I think the whole quarterback room does. I think that puts pressure on Davis, because they are both playing well enough to keep that on him. His experience factor gives him the upper hand right now, but Roman and Braylon both have had a really good fall camp.”
Montgomery particularly likes the fact that Braxton is more of a mobile quarterback, so if he did have to go in, he would present some difficulties for opposing defenses to adjust to. He also noted that Fuller is close behind Braxton.
“They’re both two different styles of quarterbacks,” Montgomery said. “I think right now, if something were to happen in a game, then Braylon would probably roll in first, because he brings a different element to the field, just from his athleticism, being able to not just throw but be able to run around, bide time, extend plays and do those types of things. Obviously, Davis is going to be our starter; we probably have 2A and 2B right now is the way I feel about it.”
Braxton feels he has taken a significant step forward in his development over the last month of preseason practices.
“This fall camp, it’s my second one, so I feel like I took a big jump from my first one,” he said. “Just learning what everybody in the offense has on every play and learning what I’m supposed to do on every play, getting my eyes on the right guy, making the right reads on every play; I feel like I’ve grown in that area.”
Even Brin has noticed the improvement from both Braxton and Fuller and feels confident they can step in if necessary.
“I think the whole room is very confident,” said Brin, a senior. “They’ve been doing a great job, I’ve seen a ton of improvement from both of them since the time they’ve been here. We push each other every day. It’s always great to go compete against other great guys in the room and we like to go do that a lot, watching film and in practice and stuff. We see everybody doing really good things on the field. Competition there is always great to see.”
And while they are battling against each other for playing time, all the QBs understand that they’re on the same team and have bonded well off the field.
“At the end of the day, we’re all family,” Braxton said. “We’re all competing for the same job, but that’s football. We’ve all bought into it already, we have a great brotherhood. Davis is obviously the oldest in the group, he’s kind of like everyone’s big bro right now, so he’s kind of taken that role. Me and Roman, we were roommates actually last year in the hotel, so me and Roman got real close over this last year.
"I feel like we have a pretty closely-knit group of quarterbacks. Everybody’s trying to see everybody get better. I feel like that’s real important.”
If he does get called upon to step in during the middle of a tight matchup, Braxton draws some comfort from the knowledge that he’s already had a little taste of what it’s like.
“I know if I get thrown in, I know I’ll be able to make the plays, so it definitely gave me some confidence last year,” he said.