For the first time since 2004, there is a serious competition at the William and Mary quarterback position. When fans walk into Zable Stadium Saturday for the annual spring game, not one, but two quarterbacks — redshirt freshman Brent Caprio and junior transfer Mike Paulus — will be featured prominently, with the prospect of being the squad’s starting quarterback on the line.
Caprio and Paulus are the favorites to replace outgoing senior R.J. Archer under center next fall in a competition that includes senior Mike Callahan — who will be returning from a season-ending ACL injury — junior D.J. Mangas and last year’s backup, junior Terrance Schmand.
“To name a starter right now, I think that is going to be difficult,” senior wide receiver Chase Hill said. “It’s pretty much even right now between Caprio and Paulus, and you also have Mike Callahan, who knows the offense better than anybody else.”
Paulus, who transferred from North Carolina in January, knows his presence on campus is not a sure sign that he will take the reigns next fall.
“If someone is going to guarantee you a job, something is wrong, and there should be some red flags,” Paulus said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could go and compete, to win a lot of games and win a national championship … Waking up every morning and being in a competition is a lot of fun, and it drives me every day. I want to earn it, and I want to make sure my teammates see that I earned it, and I want Coach Jimmye Laycock to feel like I have earned it.”
Paulus was the fourth-rated pro-style quarterback in the 2007 recruiting class, but spent the last two years behind T.J. Yates at Chapel Hill. Forsaken by UNC Head Coach Butch Davis, Paulus began formulating a list of FCS schools that would allow him to compete for the starting quarterback job right away.
After consulting with Laycock, Paulus said he felt that the College would best allow him to gain national attention and prepare him for a possible NFL career.
“I was able to talk to [Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback] Joe Flacco about it,” Paulus said. “His situation at Pittsburgh was the exact same thing, and he left because he wanted to go play, have fun and see what happened. He picked Delaware, where there is great competition, and he got noticed. Every week here is going to be a battle against Delaware, JMU, Richmond and Villanova, so you have to bring it every single weekend. That’s why I came here.”
Caprio — who was also touted coming out of high school, if not to the same extent as Paulus — redshirted this past fall as a freshman, and worked with Archer to learn the offense.
“R.J. was really great,” Caprio said. “Whenever he wasn’t in there taking reps, he would be on the sideline with me pointing out little things. Just the little tips he gave me go a long way. He’s a great leader and he’s a real nice kid. It’s nice to have a guy like that to look up to.”
Caprio began working this offseason in order to firmly entrench himself as a candidate for the starting job. As a result, many Tribe players and coaches have begun to take notice of his abilities.
“Brent is very consistent; he has definitely been working on his footwork,” Hill said. “Right now, between him and Paulus, he knows the offense a little better, just because he has been here. It is extremely difficult to pick up a complete offense, everything from learning the signals, learning the reads.”
With the stakes so high and the margin separating the pair so small, a battle like the one between Caprio and Paulus runs the risk of polarizing the team. However, Paulus and Caprio are close friends, and do not let their on-field results dampen their off-the-field friendship.
“The one who was the nicest to me when I first got here was Brent,” Paulus said. “He was texting me ‘Hey, did you get to class alright?’ ‘Do you know where everything is?’ I think he is a really nice guy. Of all the quarterbacks, I would say that me and Brent are probably the closest. We were always close, always hanging out, and once we got to spring ball, it just so happened that we are the top two candidates for the job.”
The players also know that the success of the offense will not rely solely on the right arm of either player. The Tribe lost four starters from last year’s offense, including tight end Rob Varno, wide receiver D.J. McAulay and center C.J. Muse, forcing others besides the two quarterbacks to step up this spring.
“I would say that our goal as an offense next year is consistency,” Hill said. “We are going to try and replace a lot of key guys who graduated … We are trying to get a good rhythm from all the new guys who are going to step up and replace everybody.”
While both quarterbacks are close, they know that in such a heated competition, every result counts.
“I think a lot of it is going to be based on the spring game on Saturday and who performs better,” Caprio said. “We have had two scrimmages so far this spring, and we both have performed about the same. It’s also in practice, he will go out and make a big throw, and two plays later, I will be in there, and I am a competitive guy so I will make a big throw. So it’s kind of back and forth all spring, and a lot of it is going to come down to the spring game.”