Photo: Chris Katrenick in high school
DURHAM, N.C. – If you think N.C. Central felt frustrated when Duke third-team quarterback Chris Katrenick directed three second-half scoring drives, imagine the second-guessing of highly recruited QBs still seeking playing time across the nation.
Katrenick made his college debut when he came off the bench for injured Quentin Harris, who was making his second start in place of injured third-year starter Daniel Jones. He coolly maintained control of the game as the Blue Devils finished with a 55-13 win over the Eagles on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke is now 4-0 and ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the USA Today poll before facing Virginia Tech (2-1), unranked by AP but No. 24 in USA Today, this Saturday at home.
Of those aforementioned QBs that might be second-guessing themselves, in particular think of 4-star prospects that turned down quarterback-whisper David Cutcliffe. Duke’s 11th-year head coach guided Peyton Manning as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and Eli Manning as the Ole Miss head coach.
The quarterback position has become a game of musical chairs in recent seasons, and because of such widespread last-minute shopping, 3-star prospect Katrenick landed his Duke scholarship that 4-star recruit Jack Sears had reneged upon. Kids, of course, are entitled to change their minds. But a decision turning away from Cutcliffe's coaching is not to be made cavalierly. And it raises questions about what other coaches are selling when they convince a kid to go back on his word.
Sears of San Clemente High in California’s Orange County had verbally committed to Duke on Aug. 8, 2016, shortly before his senior season. As the No. 5 pro-style quarterback recruit in the nation, Sears was the highest ranked quarterback to commit to Cutcliffe since he set about rebuilding Duke’s once lowly program
But by Nov. 14, 2016, Sears flipped his commitment to USC. He enrolled early in January, 2017 and redshirted in the fall.
He has yet to take a snap through four games in 2018, his redshirt freshman season. He remains third on USC’s depth chart behind starter J.T. Daniels and No. 2 backup redshirt sophomore Matt Fink. Daniels is listed as a true freshman, but he should be a high school senior.
Daniels was a starter at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei as a freshman, sophomore and junior before he decided to reclassify for the Class of 2018, skipping his senior year. He enrolled at USC in January 2018, participated in spring drills and beat out Fink and Sears for the starting job in fall camp.
The only bigger musical chairs insult to suffer might be Alabama coach Nick Saban waiting until the season opener to name sophomore Tua Tagovailoa the starter. It’s been speculated Saban stalled to prevent junior returning starter Jalen Hurts from transferring to another school.
The musical-chairs examples are plenty in today’s game, but what makes the Sears-Katrenick comparison interesting was one passed on the chance to learn from Cutcliffe and other has benefited. Katrenick accepted his Duke offer the same day Sears backed out.
Both players began 2018 as redshirt freshman listed third on their respective depth chart, but while Sears still waits for his first snap, Katrenick made his college debut. Once Harris was injured, Katrenick needed only seven snaps to cover the final 24 yards of the 10-play 55-yard TD possession. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Algonquin (Ill.) Jacobs connected with tight end Davis Koppenhaver on a 3-yard scoring toss.
He finished the game leading two more scoring drives that Deon Jackson capped with a 2-yard run and Nicodem Pierre a 1-yard score. Katrincik’s final numbers were 5-of-12 passing for 54 yards and one score. He didn’t throw and interception, he wasn’t sacked and he didn’t turn the ball over on his two carries for three yards.
Harris didn’t return to the game, although Cutcliffe said he could have returned. Harris remains the starter, but now Katrenick has a quarter-and-a-half of snaps under his belt.
“Quentin is fine and could have gone back into the game,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “But I told (offensive coordinator) Zac Roper this was too good of an opportunity for Chris right now.”
Katrenick has been earning Cutcliffe’s trust before his emergency call. Since Jones’ injury in the second game, he had moved into the No. 2 role, which means more snaps the past two weeks in game preparation as opposed to scout team work.
“I told Chris before the game that I thought he had really made great progress this week,” Cutcliffe said, “before I knew what the result of tonight was going to be.”
Duke’s receivers also praised Katrenick, saying the way Cutcliffe rotates quarterbacks in practice allows the receivers to gain familiarity with backups.
“I’ve caught balls form (Katrenick) for two years now and we’re comfortable,” said Koppenhaver, a redshirt senior.
Added redshirt senior wide receiver and team captain Johnathan Lloyd, “The mantra is next man up to be prepared and that’s what Chris did.”
And he did it with a quarterback whisperer in his ear thanks to college football’s widespread game of musical chairs.
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