Benkert Wins Quarterback Job

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Kurt Benkert was recently named the starter for the team's opener against Towson, beating out juniors Blake Kemp and Cody Keith.

GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill put an end to any speculation on Wednesday, announcing the not-so-surprising news that redshirt sophomore quarterback Kurt Benkert is going to be the starter going into the season-opener against Towson.

Benkert seemed to be the heir apparent to take over the reigns of the offense from Shane Carden, following his arrival on campus three years ago. However, his fast track to the starter job was slowed down as he spent most of the spring and fall battling for the spot with juniors Blake Kemp and Cody Keith. Ultimately, though, he beat out the upperclassmen thanks to his knowledge of the offense.

“I think Kurt was the leader,” first year offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said. “His skill set and his intelligence set him apart. Even if all three were equal we’d have to name someone the starter.”

With his new appointment as the starter, Benkert will no longer have to split first-team reps with Keith or Kemp, something that Nichol said was a driving force behind the timing of the decision.

The announcement came on the heels of a dismal fall scrimmage for Benkert, as the quarterback finished just 3-for-15 with an interception, however it might not be entirely indicative of the sophomore’s abilities thanks to a steady rotation of younger players finding their way onto the field, limiting the amount of comfort for him.

“I was frustrated and I realized that I have to just come out and show everybody that it’s not going to affect me at all,” Benkert said of the spring game. “I started putting the ball in play better this week and I feel like it really worked.”

Things changed drastically for Benkert from the scrimmage to his eventual appointment. Nichol noted Benkert’s high-wired personality was perhaps holding him back from finding comfort so it’s possible that the timing of the decision was aimed at helping the quarterback settle down.

“I felt myself relax after the scrimmage because I didn’t feel it could get much worse than that,” Benkert said with a laugh. “I just decided I was going to come out here and have fun and whatever happens, happens and it started paying dividends.”

Benkert has a chance for redemption this Saturday as the Pirates will play in their second scrimmage of the fall. However, he might have a chance to play with more starters and avoid the shuffling of players coming in and out.

ECU’s pass-heavy offense calls for a level of chemistry between receiver and quarterback, something that was being hindered because of the quarterback rotation. Junior receiver Isaiah Jones admitted he was looking forward to the consistency of having a regular starter.

“All the guys were competitors, they all did well competing for the job, they all could lead this offense,” Jones said. “Kurt definitely has a cannon though. He’s more of a threat to throw the ball deep, he’s a threat to run. We’re excited to see what he can do.”

While Nichol admitted that the gap between Benkert and the rest of the quarterbacks wasn’t necessarily small, he said that both Kemp and Keith took the decision in stride.

“I love our quarterback group,” Nichol said. “You worry that some guys are going to be detriments to the team. Our guys are all pretty good guys but we just felt Kurt was the guy and now was the time.”

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