Two seasons with two quarterbacks capable of running Sacramento State’s offense made Bobby Fresques’ job as the quarterbacks coach almost too easy. Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara made the most of being interchangeable as the Hornets won 21 of 25 games and two Big Sky Conference championships the past two seasons.
“It worked because we were successful,” Fresques explained. “If we’re not successful, then one of them is going to be disgruntled. By both of them being really good, it’s like the old saying ‘Iron sharpens iron.’ They made each other better. Neither one of them could afford to be complacent. And we got the best out of both of them.”
That was then, however. Fresques now faces the challenge of finding a new starting quarterback or possibly two who can share playing time. And now that Fresques will be calling plays, the game plan will depend on who is behind center. Fresques was promoted to offensive coordinator after head coach Troy Taylor bolted to Stanford.
Fresques, associate head coach Kris Richardson and defensive coordinator Andy Thompson all interviewed to succeed Taylor. Fresques credits Mark Orr, Sacramento State’s Director of Athletics, for not going outside to find a new head coach who would have likely dismissed all of Taylor’s assistants in favor of assembling his own staff.
There was also the possibility of Taylor taking some of his assistants with him to Stanford. Fresques said he, Thompson and Richardson made a pact to remain with the Hornets regardless of who would be named as head coach. Fresques laughed when asked if he and Richardson conspired to let Thompson take the helm – and the stress.
“Exactly,” Fresques said. “The head coach responsibility is big and Andy is finding that out. But there is no better guy for the job. If they didn’t go in house, we could have been a 12-1 football team (in 2022) with a whole new staff. We’ve built a great foundation. I’d like to think we’re not going to change anything or skip a beat.”
The beat will go on because Fresques inherits an offense with six returning starters. Dunniway and O’Hara graduated along with wide receiver Pierre Williams and guard Brandon Weldon. Sophomore running back Cameron Skattebo, the 2022 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, used the transfer portal to go to Arizona State.
Williams, Weldon and O’Hara were all first-team selections in All-Big Sky voting last year. O’Hara was named the conference’s best all-purpose player after rushing for 19 touchdowns and passing for 11. The Hornets have experienced depth at running back, wide receiver and guard. Quarterback is the question mark.
Kaiden Bennett is the only quarterback on the roster to take a snap with the Hornets. The junior appeared in six games last season, completing four of seven passes for 26 yards and rushing for 72 yards on 12 carries. Bennett’s competition appears to be Carson Camp, a junior transfer from South Dakota. Camp was benched after starting the first seven games for the Coyotes in 2022 to extend his streak of consecutive starts to 23.
Fresques is in no hurry to name a starter. Spring practices were an opportunity to take a good long look at each quarterback candidate. The competition will resume for real in August.
“Right now it’s about putting in the offense, getting (the quarterbacks) reps and see where we’re at going into the summer,” said Fresques, who played quarterback for the Hornets from 1990 to 1992. “You always want someone to emerge, but we’re not looking to make that decision until the fall. I told (the quarterbacks) three things – don’t compare yourself to anybody else, be a ferocious learner and never cease trying to be better.”
May the better quarterback, or two, win and answer the No. 1 question for the Hornets as the 2023 season approaches.