West Virginia quarterback Ford Childress' debut Saturday included 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns.
Stephen J. Nesbitt Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ford Childress always was West Virginia's quarterback of the future. Saturday, though, the redshirt freshman also cemented himself as the quarterback of today.
Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in his debut, a 41-7 victory against Georgia State at Milan Puskar Stadium. His performance set a school record for passing yards by a freshman -- the 19th most by any quarterback in program history.
It's safe to say the starting job now belongs to Childress.
"If it's not [his], then I'm not very smart," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Because we just gave him 100 percent of the reps."
Four days earlier, Childress was still the No. 3 option at quarterback, stuck behind juniors Paul Millard and Clint Trickett on the depth chart.
It took just two midweek practices for him to rise from third string to starter.
Millard was cast out of the competition after two rather mediocre starts, a move made "because we wanted to win a game," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
That left Trickett and Childress to challenge for the start. The blueprint called for Childress to take first-team reps in practice Tuesday and Trickett -- his roommate -- to follow suit Wednesday.
But when he arrived to practice Wednesday afternoon, Childress was with the first team again -- "a pretty easy sign," he said.
Dawson rallied the quarterbacks after practice to tell them Childress would start Saturday.
Childress was admittedly "really excited." His first call was to his father, Ray, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Houston Oilers and a two-time All-American at Texas A&M.
"He said he was really proud of me," Childress said. "I've been working really hard, and he knows it."
The promotion marked a definite turnaround in a disappointing month for Childress.
In late August, after no quarterback distanced himself in fall camp, Holgorsen decided to give reps just to Millard and Trickett in hopes of finding an opening-day starter.
"They just wanted to go with the guys that had the most experience, which was Paul and Clint," Childress said. "Obviously, I was mad. I wanted to start."
Back to the sidelines, back to the clipboard, back to charting plays.
It's not easy to win a starting job when you've never taken a snap at the collegiate level. It's seemingly impossible when you aren't even getting reps in practice.
But Holgorsen saw something, a certain mentality and body language, in Childress the first two games of the season.
"When things were tight, when it was a high-pressure situation, he was the one that I saw being poised, being calm," Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen watched Childress break out of "redshirt mode" and realize he was far from out of the competition at the unstable quarterback position.
"If you're not happy with what your role is, then change it," Holgorsen said. "I pat Ford on the back for that. That's what he did for two games. He knew he was No. 3. He kept his head in it, he worked hard, then when we called his number he took advantage of the opportunity that was given to him."
So far, so good.
When asked about his grasp on the communication component of Holgorsen's up-tempo, air-raid offense, Childress' answer drew laughter.
It's a pretty simple offense, he said, "but it's difficult when Dana gives the signals really quick or when he tries to be cute with his signs -- that makes it tricky."
And how exactly does Holgorsen get cute?
"He tries to hide [the signals], and he's got little, small fingers, so it gets kind of confusing," Childress said with a grin.
Chalk it up to growing pains. Holgorsen and Childress, the quarterback of today and of the future, have four years to figure it out.