Time to step up:

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

It’s Hansell’s job, but strong JUCO transfer will bring some competition to the Trojans’ backfield


Sports Editor

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There was a point in time when it seemed Brock Nutter would be a Troy State quarterback forever.

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that the Hoover native was durable.

Nutter started four years for the Trojans, played in 48 games and finished his career as the top passer in TSU history, throwing for 7,791 yards and 51 touchdowns.

"I think that may be a record. At least instate," said Trojans’ head coach Larry Blakeney about the number of games Nutter played in. "I know up in Auburn, Stan White played in a lot of games but Brock may have him beat."

Actually, Blakeney speaks the truth. White (1990-93) started and played in 44 games for Auburn before an injury during the 1993 Iron Bowl ended his career.

And while Pat Nix, the player who would be Auburn’s quarterback the next two years, suddenly found himself thrust into the national spotlight against Alabama when White went down, Hansell Bearden’s progression at Troy State has been slow and steady.

Redshirted in 2000, Bearden saw action in all but four games last year for the Trojans.

Obviously looking toward the future, Blakeney and offensive coordinator John Shannon weren’t hesitant about yanking Nutter in favor of Bearden during key situations against big time opponents.

Starting with the Trojans’ first game in Division I-A at Nebraska.

Bearden saw limited action as Troy State looked to make a game out of it early. The Cornhuskers came back to win it going away 42-14.

With the game out of control the next week against Middle Tennessee in a 54-17 Trojans’ loss, Bearden went 6-of-9 for 64

yards and tossed his first collegiate touchdown.

Action in games against Louisiana-Monroe, Maryland, Nicholls State, Miami and Jacksonville State followed.

Despite the 47-14 pounding administered by the Terps, Blakeney saw something he liked in the play of his freshman quarterback.

"I think Hansell, and the bunch that came after, played better then our starters," said Blakeney.

With the game already decided, Bearden finished with a career-high of 88 yards passing, leading the Trojans on a five-play, 64-yard drive which resulted in a 33-yard touchdown pass to Eric Felton.

Bearden’s grasp of Shannon’s Trojan Spread offense, coupled with his play from last year, has caused Blakeney to name the Cairo, Ga., native his starting quarterback.

"It’s Hansell Bearden’s job to lose," said Blakeney.

But with two-a-day’s set to start in August, Bearden will have to contend with a new gunslinger looking for employment. In the spring, Bearden successfully held off the challenge of talented, but raw, Kacson Maddox, who played just one season as a quarterback during prep school.

However, JUCO transfer Matt Ray in on the opposite end of the spectrum. Ray, who signed with the Trojans in February after a year at Butte Junior College, brings experience and something Blakeney said was lacking during spring training; someone for Bearden to compete against.

"We’ve been trying to find some competition to make us better at that position (quarterback),"

said Blakeney. "And he’ll do that."

How high are Shannon and Blakeney on Ray?

Yet to see any amount of practice time, Ray has automatically been inserted as the Trojans’ No. 2 quarterback behind Bearden.

"Hansell came out of the spring as the No. 1 quarterback," said Shannon. "He took all of the snaps with the first-team and he will start in front, but Matt Ray will come in and contend immediately for the job. Whoever wins out in August will be our starter. Both will see playing time, but both are new to this system and Division I football. We intend to count on them both this year."

Ray threw for 1,990 yards last year at Butte, earning all-conference and team MVP honors. He also played for UNLV as a freshman in 1999, prior to transferring.

Freshman Bragg Knott, who will report on Sunday with the rest of TSU’s fall signees, brings a 6-foot-4, 210-pound package to the table as well.

But barring unforeseen injuries, look for Knott to be redshirted early on this season.

"Bragg Knott is a young one from Homewood High School in Birmingham who has just scratched the surface of his career. He will be a good player," said Blakeney.