Perhaps only Ben McLane believed that he could win Georgia State’s quarterback job in the spring.
His offensive coordinator, John Bond, wasn’t sure because McLane had yet to play a meaningful snap. McLane’s dad Ben Sr. wasn’t sure because his son was still a true freshman, competing against guys who started last year.
McLane just wanted an opportunity to make people believe.
On Thursday, when the Panthers open the season against South Carolina State at the Georgia Dome, McLane will debut at quarterback as a redshirt freshman. He got his opportunity. He made people believe.
“That’s the job of a quarterback,” McLane said. “You have to make other people believe in you and make them believe in themselves. And then the whole team can start believing and win some football games.”
McLane was named the No. 1 starter coming out of the spring because coaches liked his accuracy and game-management, areas that needed to be improved after the three quarterbacks Georgia State used last year combined to complete an average of 49.7 percent of their passes – nowhere close to the 65 percent Bond wants — with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Knowing McLane was accurate, Bond asked him to work on his leadership during the summer.
“It’s natural when you aren’t a junior or senior to sit back a little bit,” Bond said. “I’ve told him, ‘This is your football team and you have to be more aggressive in your leadership.’ He’s done that.”
For advice, McLane turned to those who have led him: his dad, Ben, an assistant coach at Brookwood; Curry, and others.
The most important thing he learned was to lead by example.
“He’s always been kind of a quiet leader,” Benjie said. “As a coach, you can appreciate that. He works his tail off in the weight room. He studies film and is prepared. That’s the leadership role you want him to have.”
It turns out his teammates were ready to be led after going 3-8 last year. McLane said he had no trouble rounding them up to work on seven-on-seven passing drills.
The work showed in the first two weeks of August. McLane looked sharp in his competition with Kelton Hill, who started last season’s last five games, and transfer Ronnie Bell. McLane estimated he was completing at least 70percent of his passes during the first two weeks of practice. He hit receivers in stride, allowing them to make plays. He seldom read the defenses wrong as he learned the no-huddle offense, which is more complicated than the I-formation run-based attack he led at Brookwood.
But then he hit a rough patch. He said he didn’t know if it was a mid-camp lull, or him “being an idiot,” but he started throwing interceptions in bunches. Some of there were tipped balls. Some of them were busted routes by the receivers, many of whom were back-ups. Some of them were poor throws. He joked that hopefully he threw so many that he won’t throw any during season.
Whatever the reason, McLane took responsibility and has since improved his performance, which Curry appreciates.
“He’s bounced back and that’s what quarterbacks have to do, especially young quarterbacks, but he’s shown what he can do,” Curry said.
McLane said he will play guitar and do other things to keep his mind off Thursday’s game, the first meaningful game he’s played since leading Brookwood to the Class AAAAA championship in 2010.
McLane gives off confidence in an understated way. Though he said there’s more pressure, he seems ready to make other people believe.
“It’s been a few years, but I’m ready,” McLane said.
Breaking down Georgia State vs. South Carolina State (with Theo Agnew ruling by NCAA)
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu