Bearden still starter at quarterback; Leak not far behind in race for slot

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2003

Hansell Bearden will be the first one to admit last year was a nightmare.

As a sophomore, Bearden struggled in former offensive coordinator John Shannon's "Trojan Spread" offense. While the defense was holding opposing offenses in check, the offense was ineffective.

"Last year was tough," Bearden said.

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Bearden looked overwhelmed most of the season against the tough opponents. He completed 125 of 288 passes for 1,462 yards. However, he threw only six touchdown passes (three in one game against non-scholarship I-AA Austin Peay) against 16 interceptions.

The low point of the season (of many low points) was in the Trojans' 11-8 loss to Mississippi State. Bearden threw five interceptions to tie an individual school record, and wide receiver Jason Samples threw another to tie the school team record.

Despite the poor performance last year, Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney has put his confidence in Bearden to start the season.

"Our quarterback has gotten better [in the spring]," Blakeney said. "As soon as we got started, his percentage of completions went up, his touchdowns over interceptions went up. He was a more confident player this spring than he was most of last season."

New offensive coordinator Mark Fleetwood also complimented Bearden's abilities.

"Hansell is a smart player," Fleetwood said. "He has learned the system and has done a good job.

"Execution part of it is his strong point. Putting us in the right place, calling the right plays. He's made some mistakes, but for the most part he has done that."

Bearden had his moments last season, though. He showed signs of being a solid performer in the early part of the season. He threw for 203 yards against UAB in the Trojans' 27-26 loss, and he rushed for 99 yards and a 63-yard touchdown against Southern Utah in Troy State's 40-15 win.

"I think confidence was an issue last year," Bearden said.

While Bearden may be improving, many Troy State fans on message boards and in sports bar conversations are wondering if Bearden is the quarterback for the job.

If he is not, coaches are very high on transfer junior Aaron Leak. Leak already moved up the depth chart to No. 2 despite not working out until the fall. He quickly displaced Franco Johnson, who will likely redshirt this season.

Leak spent the 2002 season at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss. In only 10 games, he threw for 1,794 yards while leading his team to a No. 15 ranking. He connected on eight touchdowns but threw 11 interceptions.

He saw very little action in 2001 as a redshirt freshman for the University of North Carolina. He completed one pass for 24 yards and played in only two games.

"Aaron Leak is a guy, you look at him and say, 'Yeah, he can play,'" Blakeney said. "He's 6-4, 225, and he's got a strong arm."

Fleetwood was also complimentary of Leak. The biggest disadvantage Leak has is not having the benefit of spring workouts behind him.

"He's learning the system," Fleetwood said. "He's a big kid who has a strong arm. He's trying to get better mechanically. We're working on our quarterback precision. He's making improvements."