R.J. Archer is not your typical starting quarterback. Typical starting quarterbacks do not bounce from under center, to wideout and back again in three years. Typical quarterbacks do not voluntarily accept a year on the bench after spending two years in a starting role. Typical quarterbacks would threaten to transfer.
But that is the sacrifice senior quarterback R.J. Archer made before his junior season. After two years as one of the Tribe’s most consistent and productive receivers, Archer made the decision to switch to the quarterback position, knowingly sacrificing his junior year for the chance to be the team’s unquestioned leader for his final season.
Tomorrow, that decision will pay off as Archer leads the College of William and Mary football team onto the field at Zable Stadium for the program’s annual Spring Game, firmly entrenched at the head of the offense.
“I knew spending a year on the sidelines was what needed to happen,” Archer said. “It was a sacrifice, but that’s what football is about.”
Archer came to the College in the fall of 2005 as a decorated high school quarterback out of Albemarle High School in Earlysville, Va. At the end of his prep career, he ranked 61st in state history in career passing yardage, ahead of such prominent names as University of Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, both starters for their respective collegiate programs. More importantly, Archer ranked 21 spots behind Tribe quarterback Jake Phillips ’09, who had signed with the College a year earlier. After Phillips earned the starting quarterback role as a sophomore, midway through Archer’s initial redshirt season, Archer’s path to the starting job was blocked.
“I had never played receiver before, but about halfway through my freshman spring, the coaches came to me and asked if I wanted to move to there,” Archer said. “I said, ‘Whatever will get me on the field the quickest.’”
Utilizing his outstanding athleticism, the 6’2”220-pound Archer took naturally to the receiver position, racking up 69 catches for 939 yards during his redshirt freshman and sophomore years. But after the graduation of quarterback Mike Potts ’08 following the 2007 season, the College was left with a void under center.
“[Head] Coach [Jimmye Laycock] came to me before last spring and said that we needed more depth at quarterback,” Archer said. “This time I just said that whatever’s best for the team, I’ll do.”
With Phillips entering his senior year, Archer knew he would spend 2008 on the bench as the backup. But the potential benefit to the team and the chance to start at the position where he had first excelled drove him to make the switch.
“Anybody would love to be on the field, especially after playing every game the first two years,” Archer said. “It was tough sometimes, but I never regretted it.”
With Phillips about to graduate, it is Archer’s team. Unlike a traditional first year quarterback, the senior will take over the starting job fully immersed in an offense in which he has started 16 games at receiver.
“R.J.’s been here for a while. He knows the offense, and he’s great at reading defenses,” senior wide receiver D.J. McAulay said. “I don’t think it’s going to be hard for him to step up into the starting job. Having played as a receiver, he knows what we’re thinking.”
Last season, Archer was called upon to start one game at quarterback when Phillips suffered an ankle injury. Using his previous on-field experience, Archer responded admirably, throwing for 307 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort against Villanova University, a team that ended the season ranked sixth in the country.
With another half season at quarterback under his belt since that one start, Archer will bring his transition full circle, while looking to notch more solid performances in 2009.
“It wasn’t really a tough transition, but it was fun to get out there for two years as a wide receiver,” Archer said. “I wasn’t really upset about not playing quarterback then, but I’m glad I’m back to it now.”