New battle: McKenzie’s return, Turner’s arrival adds to QB landscape

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2016

BEAUMONT — Just one week before the start of the 2015 season, an injury knocked Blake McKenzie out of a heated race for starting quarterback at Lamar.
“I was rolling out on a play during the 2-minute drill, and my feet just didn’t set right,” the third-year collegian said. “My foot got caught in the turf and just tore my ACL completely.”
With that, Joe Minden and Carson Earp shared the role the entire season, with freshman Brett Cox taking only a handful of snaps in relief.
McKenzie went through missing a season of action once already. The Corpus Christi man redshirted as a freshman at Fullerton (California) College and stayed in the Golden State the next season to play at Riverside Community College.
But the 2015 season tested his patience.
Walking onto the Lamar program during the second summer term, he competed like a player who had worked out during the spring as Minden and Earp did. The Cardinals were well-stocked at quarterback.
“I’ve only played one year, but I think the biggest thing is being patient,” he said. “Something I’ve had to learn, especially turning your ACL. In a heated time, right before the season, patience is something I’ve come to deal with for sure.”
Now, he’s back. And Lamar is loaded under center again — with Adam Morse of Port Neches-Groves to come for preseason camp.
Just before the start of Monday’s opening spring session, Cardinals coach Ray Woodard came short of saying whether he would stick with a two-quarterback system, but he established Earp, a rising senior, as a starter for now.
“He’ll be with the ones [first-string players] starting out,” Woodard said. “He’s earned that. It’s his position to lose, kind of. No one has a starting job right now.”
Earp played in eight games and completed 42 of 78 passes for 576 yards and seven touchdowns in an otherwise injury-filled season. He was knocked out of the Southeastern Louisiana game with a shoulder bruise against Southeastern Louisiana.
Minden, who went 4-4 as the starter, had a broken bone in his hand during his graduate season.
With a new quarterback race ahead of him, Earp hasn’t thought too much about the potential of anyone beating him out.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to work hard, do the best I can and control what I can control.”
The spring will be Clayton Turner’s first opportunity to make a move in the race. Turner, of Marietta, Georgia, is a junior transfer from the University of Miami, where he saw limited action on special teams but worked out as a wide receiver.
“It was great because coming from a receiver perspective, a quarterback-receiver relationship is important,” he said. “If I can understand both sides of it, it’s going to help me a lot in terms of coverages as well.”
Turner did not record any statistics with the Hurricanes, but he quarterbacked in high school and junior college.
McKenzie made the most of his second redshirt season after the long road to recovery by picking up on the offense away from the field and picking the brains of Minden and Earp. That doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t hard on him emotionally at times.
“The first two weeks are pretty hard,” he said. “You get down on yourself, get a little depressed, but we have a great staff here. I built some great relationships with the guys. They kind of pick you up from it. You find some motivation every day and keep pushing for it.”
Whoever wins the starting battle won’t entirely get to rely on running back extraordinaire Kade Harrington to take away some pressure from the passing game. While Lamar was second in the Southland Conference in scoring (35.8 points per game) to national semifinalist Sam Houston State’s 41.1, the Cards were seventh of 11 teams in passing at 170.2 yards per game.
“Kade had a good year last year and people are going to be gunning for him,” Earp said. “We have to be able to throw the ball better and take some shots downfield. Kade rushed for a bunch of yards, but we won five games, and that’s not acceptable. We’re trying to get better as a whole offense, and to do that, our whole offense has to improve.”
Tuesday’s practice was called off due to the weather, but there is no word on whether that will be rescheduled. Lamar has 13 scheduled spring practices remaining.

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About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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