Tarleton State head coach Cary Fowler couldn't be happier with young quarterbacks Collin Strahan and Matt Bishop, but he also couldn't be happier with his starter, who he says is clearly Aaron Doyle.
"It's a one-man race," Fowler said emphatically Wednesday. "Aaron is the guy. He is so comfortable now because he's run the system and taken every snap for two straight springs. Remember, Nick (Stephens) couldn't go in the spring (before last season), so Aaron's had a lot of work."
Doyle also got baptized by fire as a redshirt freshman in 2010 when Stephens - then a junior - suffered an injury to his throwing arm that forced him to miss three games. Doyle was injured then returned himself, connecting on 51.9 percent of his passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns.
"It's so different watching Aaron on the field now than when he was that wide-eyed freshman from little ole Evant," Fowler said. "You can tell he's 22 and not 18 or 19 like (Bishop or Strahan)."
Doyle is in his fourth year in the program and is officially classified as a redshirt junior. His career numbers don't have him in the discussion for any major awards - 56-108 passing for 627 yards and four scores with two interceptions - but his athletic ability is unquestioned.
"He's 6-foot-2, he weighs 225 pounds and he runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds," says Fowler. "In high school Division I schools like Oklahoma State were looking at him as a linebacker. He can play slot receiver, safety, anywhere. He's just that kind of athlete."
While Doyle's athleticism does make him a dual threat, Fowler says that won't be the focal point of Tarleton's offense under new coordinator Justin Carrigan.
"He'll run some, we have to let him run some," Fowler said. "But Aaron has proven receivers and a lot of our offensive line returning. He's comfortable being patient and letting plays develop. But when the time comes he does have to scramble, who knows what will happen. It will be exciting, I know that."
Fowler made it clear before preseason camp the only offensive personnel decision he would make as head coach would be the starting quarterback.
"It was Aaron's to lose from the get-go, but we do have some talented young guys at that position and we have a fifth-year senior there in Jake Fenske who is also comfortable in our offense," Fowler said.
Fenske, a nominee for the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, has practiced alongside Doyle since before Tarleton installed the air raid. The Texans will stick with the system this year, says Fowler, with a few wrinkles and adjustments from Carrigan, who worked alongside Fowler for years at Midwestern State before serving as an assistant at UTEP.
Bishop is an incoming freshman who helped Aledo to three consecutive 4A Division II championships. He was the starting quarterback in each of the last two and split time at quarterback as a sophomore before being injured and missing the championship game. Bishop was named offensive MVP in the title game last December and threw a touchdown pass in the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Classic last month.
Strahan began his prep career at Nevada Community before moving to Mesquite Horn, both just east of Dallas.
He was a district MVP while leading Nevada Community to the 3A playoffs for the first time in decades as a junior, then moved to Horn and helped head coach Rodney Webb, a former Tarleton offensive lineman, direct the Jaguars to their first playoff win and all the way to the 5A Division II quarterfinals.
Strahan redshirted at Tarleton last fall.
"You have Collin as a redshirt freshman and he turned programs around in high school," Fowler said. "Collin left Community, they didn't make the playoffs last year. Same thing at Horn. They didn't have Collin last fall and they missed the playoffs after he had them in the state quarterfinals. That can't be a coincidence.
"Then you have (Bishop), and I think everyone around here knows about the things he achieved," he added. "He won championships and only lost a few games his whole career."
So Doyle is the guy, but the next guy and perhaps even the one after, are likely already on campus.
"Tarleton has had so many transfers at quarterback, and it's worked before," Fowler said. "It worked with Scott Grantham and it worked with (Stephens), but I want to develop this program with high school kids who go through our system for three or four years and then it's their time to take the reins.
"That's what we have with Doyle," he added. "And if everything goes as planned, we have it lined up that way for a while."
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