MORGANTOWN — Austin Kendall and Jack Allison took similar paths to West Virginia with the intention of achieving the same goal.
As Kendall noted, in his three years behind Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and then Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, “I didn’t get to play a whole lot. That’s the biggest thing why I’m here right now. I’m excited to get my chance and I’m ready to go.”
Allison, who transferred from Miami two years ago, had to bide his time behind starter Will Grier, another Heisman candidate in his own right. Now that Grier is gone, he’s finally ready to be a starter, too.
“I came here to start,” Allison said. “I came here to win games. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m here to do.”
Both quarterbacks met with the media Tuesday, marking the first time they’ve talked in public since arriving at West Virginia.
The session was enough to provide a glimpse into a pair of different personalities. Kendall was a more business-like presence, getting to the point quickly. Allison carried himself with a looser demeanor, greeting a room of people he’d never spoken to with a cheery “Hey, everybody!” that brought to mind Simpsons character Dr. Nick Riviera.
Allison’s answers could be effusive or coy depending on the question.
When describing his first meeting with Neal Brown, Allison was detailed.
“We didn’t talk much about football. It was like two friends meeting for the first time,” Allison said. “Talking about where I’m from, where he’s from. As our relationship grew, we started talking more about football. I think he has a great football mind.”
Allison later mentioned that his biggest goal this offseason is to gain weight. So what’s his target, and how much does he need to put on to get there?
“That’s downstairs. [Strength coach] Mike Joseph knows it,” he said, and not in a deadpan manner.
Paths to Morgantown
Both players started their careers elsewhere, which is nothing new for a West Virginia quarterback. The oddity for Allison and Kendall is how familiar they already were with what they were getting in to.
When Mark Richt took over at Miami, Allison knew he was no longer an ideal fit in the Hurricanes offense. But he knew he’d fit at West Virginia because he served as a scout team quarterback prior to the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl.
“I ran West Virginia’s offense in the bowl game,” he said. “I loved that offense.”
Kendall enjoyed the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium, which he visited twice while at Oklahoma.
“My first game here [in 2016], running out into the blizzard-like conditions,” Kendall said. “It was like [how] you make the settings on ‘NCAA Football.’ It was a good experience. The atmosphere here was awesome.”
Ultimately it was more about his existing relationship with Brown, who had tried recruiting him to Kentucky back when he was the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. When Kendall had only a week to leave Oklahoma after Jalen Hurts arrived from Alabama, he knew he had to go somewhere with a coach he already trusted.
“The biggest thing was my relationship with Coach Brown,” Kendall said. “There was a short period where I realized I needed to get out of Oklahoma. Coach Brown had just gotten the job at West Virginia. It was an easy process with knowing the guys I trust.”
Winning the locker room
When it came to winning over his teammates, there’s no question that Kendall had a bigger hill to climb. After all, his first visit to Morgantown included a pregame fracas between his former team and his current one.
When asked if he took part in the midfield shoving match, Kendall replied, “unfortunately, no.”
Kendall worked quickly to eliminate any resentment that might exist towards a former Sooner.
“I looked people in the eyes, shook their hand and said ‘I’m here to compete with you guys,’” he said. “You guys are brothers now, just like the guys at Oklahoma.’ ”
It hasn’t taken long for him to win his former foes over. Kendall is headed turkey hunting with offensive lineman Josh Sills this weekend despite having zero knowledge about the art of calling a turkey.
“You can always learn,” Kendall said.
Who will start?
Only one quarterback will earn the job that both transferred to West Virginia to do.
Kendall will be viewed as a favorite heading into the offseason, but still needs to step up if he’s going to fend off Allison in August.
“I have to make more plays,” Kendall said. “In the Big 12, you have to put points on the board. I’m not saying we struggled [this spring], but there were ups and downs putting a new offense in.”
Kendall said there are improvements to be made at just about every position.
“Being on the same page with receivers. Route running,” Kendall said. “The offensive line, blocking. Quarterbacks, making throws, making the right reads, making the right protection calls. We’ve got to come together this fall.”
Allison said there are numerous areas in which he needs to show improvement, noting that he has “such a long way to go.”
“It’s going to be a big summer for me,” he said. “Individually, I’ll be working to get bigger and faster and just really hone in this offense to a master level.”
The quarterbacks and receivers will begin working together three times a week at the end of May.
“We’ll really perfect getting on the same page,” Kendall said.
From there, they will enter August training camp with their most realistic opportunity to win a college starting job to date.
“I think it brings the best of everybody to compete,” Allison said. “I’m an athlete, it’s what I do.”