By JOEL COLEMAN
Elijah Staley has the look of a superstar.
One-quarter of Mississippi State’s four-man race to become the starting quarterback this fall, Staley boasts both God-given and developed talents that cause envy among his fellow MSU signal callers.
“He has one of the most talented arms I’ve ever seen,” Nick Tiano said of Staley. “He can throw the ball further than any of us.”
Nick Fitzgerald is a nice size himself at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but even he wouldn’t mind swapping bodies with the 6-foot-6, 249-pound Staley.
“Eli has the big frame,” Fitzgerald said. “He has a coach’s dream body. He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s got the strong arm and is just a great player.”
Staley’s potential is undeniable. If he fully realizes it, the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback this fall will be the big left-hander from Marietta, Georgia.
This chance is why Staley came to Starkville. There was no question Dak Prescott would lead MSU’s offense the last several seasons, but now that Prescott has graduated and moved on to the National Football League, Staley sees his opportunity. All he has to do is outperform Fitzgerald, Tiano and Damian Williams over the next few weeks in training camp to realize his goal.
“I’ve been waiting on this since last season ended,” Staley said. “Of course you’re nervous, but at the same time, I think we’re all prepared. It’s just whoever comes out on top, but we’re all excited. I know that we’ve been working hard. Every single one of us has. There are some nerves here and there, but it’s mostly excitement at the end of the day.”
Staley gave a brief glimpse of what he offers MSU last season. Playing in only two games, Staley completed three of his five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. He also ran three times for a total of 18 yards.
Staley continued to make a case for himself in the spring, though he had his ups and downs. In State’s first spring scrimmage, Staley threw a pair of interceptions, but was 14-of-23 overall for a team-high 167 yards and a touchdown.
In the Maroon and White game a few weeks later, Staley’s numbers weren’t quite as impressive as he went just 5-of-11 through the air for only 48 yards.
Therein stands the tipping point for Staley’s starting chances this fall. Can the uber-talented southpaw develop the consistency his head coach desires?
“The biggest thing for us is who can make the play every single snap and consistently perform at a very high level,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s not the spectacular plays they can make, but can they make the average plays?”
Staley says, as part of his development and his desire to become a more consistent quarterback, he’s gotten back to fundamentals. He says it’s an enjoyable process.
“I just like making plays out there on the field,” Staley said. “Sometimes I like doing the spectacular. I’m working on doing the basics now. I just love playing and having fun.”
Staley hopes his growth is ultimately rewarded by being named the starting quarterback. As is the nature of competition though, that means three of Staley’s friends will have come up short of their goal.
From the outside looking in, with so much at stake, it might seem like tensions would be high among MSU’s quartet of quarterbacks. Staley said it’s all easier than you’d think.
“It’s not really as hard as people would assume,” Staley said. “We’re all good friends. We built a relationship over the years being behind Dak. We were all close. It’s really not as bad as people would assume, but of course it’s competition. We all want to beat each other out. Nothing really comes in the way of our friendship or anything like that though.”
Odds are, the four companions won’t be together as a unit for much longer. Mullen said himself that it wouldn’t surprise him if one of his guys sought an opportunity to play elsewhere should they lose out on MSU’s starting quarterback position.
Staley isn’t ready to say for sure he’d consider a transfer. He doesn’t rule it out, but right now, his plan is to hear his name called as the starting quarterback at Davis Wade Stadium when the Bulldogs open up on Sept. 3 against South Alabama.
“If I’m not (the starter), (transferring) would be a conversation that would have to happen when that comes,” Staley said. “I don’t really want to speak on that right now. I’m focused on what I have to do right now. I don’t really plan on leaving. I plan on being the starter. That’s what I want to do. I’ll worry about everything else if that comes up.”