When North Carolina Central concluded spring football practice, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach T.C. Taylor only had two signal callers to work with.
Naiil Ramadan and Vitu Chilongo were the only two available for the spring game, and Taylor felt like without much competition both guys probably let down their guards. Taylor wanted to create more competition to push his players, so now he has six quarterbacks in practice, with four having a real shot at being the guy when the Eagles open the season at Duke on Sept. 2.
“If we were talking about making another run this season, we had to get some more guys in here,” Taylor said. “It’s been good for the room. They’ve been sticking together, it’s been a friendly competition.”
Freshman Chauncey Caldwell enrolled in January, but could not participate in spring drills as he recovered from surgery. Not too long after the spring game junior college transfer Micah Zanders, who sat in the stands that day, committed to N.C. Central. Shortly after the commitment from Zanders, Dominique Shoffner flipped his commitment from Army and signed with the Eagles, forcing Taylor to add extra chairs to his meeting room. After practice recently, Taylor broke down the four guys battling for the job.
Naiil Ramadan (redshirt sophomore, Charlotte) - The biggest thing in Ramadan’s favor is this is his third year in the system and he has actually played in a MEAC game before. He threw two touchdown passes a year ago, and led the Eagles to a road win over Morgan State when starter Malcolm Bell left the game with an injury. Ramadan led the offense in the spring, holding off Chilongo and Shaolin McGuire, who has since left the program.
“He’s not as gifted with the arm strength as the other guys, that’s why it’s a timing deal for him,” Taylor said. “He’s got to be able to let the ball go on time, especially those deep balls. He can’t hold it like those other guys and let things develop.”
Taylor added that Ramadan had a “pretty decent” spring game, but could have been better. The biggest thing, Taylor said, was that Ramadan approached the summer to get better, especially after the Eagles signed Zanders and Shoffner. Ramadan has also become like another teacher in the meeting room, helping all the new guys with the offense.
Chauncey Caldwell (freshman, Durham) - Taylor referred to Caldwell as a “big, strong physical specimen.” At 6-3, 225 pounds, he is the biggest quarterback on the team. Caldwell played at, not one, but two of the best high school programs in the state - Hillside and Mallard Creek - and throws the ball better than anyone else in the group, according to Taylor. However, as a freshman, things might be “moving a bit too fast for him.”
“He has all the tools,” Taylor said. “He continues to try and learn the playbook right now and get ahead of the curve.”
Caldwell enrolling early, being around the program and learning the system, mentally, was a plus, Taylor said. Even though the staff couldn’t get him on the field in the spring, Caldwell, who threw for 2,500 yards and 32 touchdowns at Hillside in 2015, was able to see how they do things on the college level.
“He wasn’t like a deer caught in headlights the first day of camp,” Taylor said. “He was able to come in here and hit a groove. For him it’s about putting it in play on the field.”
Dominique Shoffner (freshman, Apex) - Like Caldwell, Shoffner put up big numbers in high school, throwing for 2,952 yards and 38 touchdowns at Middle Creek. Right now, like any freshman, he is trying to learn the playbook. Taylor wishes he could get Shoffner more reps because he has a “huge arm” and can tuck the ball and run. Shoffner ran for 13 touchdowns as a senior, and the Eagles like their quarterbacks to be dangerous with their arm and legs.
“The issue with Dominique,” Taylor said, “he can get in the classroom and master everything, but when he gets on the field it’s moving too fast.”
How fast he catches up with the speed of the game will determine if Shoffner can make a push to be the top guy.
Micah Zanders (sophomore, Jacksonville, Fla.) - On the first day of camp Zanders, who transferred from Hinds (Miss.) Community College, took a lot of first-team reps, same thing on Friday. The one advantage he has over the rest of the quarterbacks is he has the most snaps in a live college football game. Before going to Hinds, Zanders was at Southern University in Louisiana, so he has played at this level.
He knows the playbook and masters it on the field. Taylor pointed out that he was impressed with Zanders throwing the ball the first week of camp and all signs point to him being the guy. The main thing the staff wants to see is if he can be that leader they are looking for.
“We have to get the other 10 guys to believe in him right now,” Taylor said. “He’s just another position and we know it can’t be that way at quarterback. That’s the issue we have with him. I would have to say he’s a couple of steps ahead of those guys right now, but it’s still a work in progress. The people around him are starting to believe in him, but he has to take those next steps.”
The hard part is for Taylor to properly evaluate all the guys. For him that doesn’t stop in the classroom or practice film. He observes and breaks down everything. If they are warming up, he’s watching. If they are drinking water, Taylor is watching how they interact with their teammates.
“It has to be the guy the other 10 believe in,” Taylor said.