Spring just the start of NCCU quarterback battle

North Carolina Central quarterback Naiil Ramadan makes a throw during practice as Shaolin McGuire watches.
North Carolina Central quarterback Naiil Ramadan makes a throw during practice as Shaolin McGuire watches.

First things first, whoever replaces Malcolm Bell as the starter at quarterback for North Carolina Central won’t be named this spring.

Eagles’ fourth-year head coach Jerry Mack said the next few weeks will serve as an evaluation period for his three front runners for Bell’s spot: Redshirt sophomore Naiil Ramadan, redshirt freshman Shaolin McGuire and true freshman Chauncey Caldwell.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach T.C. Taylor, however, did say one of the young quarterbacks can take a step in the right direction towards becoming the starter during the 15 practices this spring. The fact of the matter is, regardless of who wins the job and starts next season, they have big shoes to fill.

Ramadan is the only quarterback on the roster who has throw a pass in an actual game, with 19 attempts and two touchdowns in relief of Bell a season ago. His game experience gives him an edge over McGuire, who traveled with the team to every game a year ago, and Caldwell, who enrolled in January, but won’t go through spring drills as he recovers from surgery. On the first day of spring practice Ramadan and McGuire split the first-team reps. With Bell watching a few feet away, Ramadan accepted the role of being the guy to lead the huddle.

“It felt good. I get a chance to call the shots,” Ramadan said. “Coach Taylor and Coach Mack always talk about being consistent. I just focus on one play at a time and executing the best I can.”

Mack said Ramadan is light years ahead from where he was a year ago, obviously, but he showed some inconsistencies in practice. Not just Ramadan, but McGuire as well. The goal this spring, according to Mack, is to install the system and see who can retain the information the best. Taylor will throw as much as he can at the group, and the staff is looking for the guy who can lead the other 10 guys on the field and make them believe they can get the job done when things get tough, an area where Bell excelled during his career.

Ramadan was able to see that first hand a year ago. He even got his own moment, leading the Eagles to a comeback win at Morgan State, where he threw a game-winning touchdown to Jalen Wilkes. In fact, both of Ramadan’s touchdowns last season went to Wilkes, who believes in Ramadan’s ability to lead the team if he wins the job.

“Me and Naiil came in two years ago with the class of 2015 and we always try to get a little grind session,” Wilkes said. “I always told Naiil he had the look. I told him he could compete. I feel like he should have played a little more reps last year, but everything works out for a reason.”

Taylor said McGuire has the build of the prototypical quarterback they’ve been looking for, standing 6’2” and weighing 215 pounds with a strong arm. But he’s still young, despite coming to Durham with all the tools as a dual-threat quarterback out of Magna Vista (Va.) High School. Taylor doesn’t want to McGuire take any steps backwards this spring, and, more than anything, he doesn’t want him to defer to Ramadan just because he’s been around longer.

“We don’t have a starter right now,” Taylor said. “If we’re in drills (Shaolin) can jump up front as well. It’s anybody’s job right now, we’re going to rotate both guys with the starters. He has to understand that it’s just as much his job as it is Naiil’s right now.”

Caldwell, a local talent from Durham Hillside who played his senior year at powerhouse Mallard Creek, is expected to be right in the mix when fall camp rolls around.

“You want to give everyone an equal and fair chance,” Mack said.” You install the system and see who retains a lot. Then as you go into the summer and obviously the fall, you look for someone to separate as the potential starter. But I don’t think a starter will be named after the spring because we are trying to give everyone a fair shot to compete for the job.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV