Ayres Ready To Step In As Starting Quarterback
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 21, 2014, 06:40
Tarian Ayres releases a pass toward wide receiver Jaivon Smallwood during the first live scrimmage.
ETTRICK — The offensive line of the Virginia State University Trojans lines up over the line of scrimmage and eyes the defense across the line of scrimmage. The quarterback aligns himself behind the center in a shotgun formation and the running back on his left. He changes the protection after noticing a blitz and receives the snap.
He quickly looks toward his left for his first progression and sees the pocket quickly shrinking around him. Instead of panicking, he spins toward his right and scrambles, keeping on an eye on the action downfield before unleashing a completion toward junior wide receiver Jaivon Smallwood.
It's the type of unscripted play which became common to witness during the Trojans' nine-win campaign last season between Justin Thorpe and his receiving corps. Thorpe and his receivers were able to communicate on the fly and adjust when he was flushed out of the pocket by defensive pressure. However, it was not Thorpe under center during Virginia State's first live scrimmage of camp.
Instead, with the graduation of Thorpe, it's now sophomore Tarian Ayres' offense to run and master. And in his first camp as starter, Ayres has been nothing short of impressive. In fact, during a recent third-down conversion drill, Ayres was on target throughout and it left an impression on Trojans head coach Latrell Scott.
"His last three days, he's gotten better each day," Scott explained of his starting quarterback. "We had a third down drill the other day where he completed 68 percent of the third downs and today, he made three or four bad decisions, but he didn't turn the ball over. We're not asking him to win games, we're asking him to manage games."
And that's what has made Ayres first week of practice all the more promising.
During the live scrimmage, Ayres was in command of the offense and it showed. He was able to relay plays quickly from the sidelines and into the huddle without much wasted time while displaying the ability to read the defense and the best way to attack it. But perhaps most promising is the way Ayres, Smallwood and Gene Holloman seemed to be on the same page on every single play.
During a first team's last drive of the scrimmage, both Ayres and Smallwood read zone coverage on the left with a safety over the top and adjusted the route to a post. As Smallwood dug his cleats into the ground and went behind the cornerback playing the flat, he took off for the sidelines and found a pass nestled safely into his arms and right over his left shoulder.
Ayres' pinpoint passing also was displayed on a threaded pass to Holloman — he led the team with 48 receptions last season — on a fade over the top which almost sprung him for a touchdown. For Ayres, his success on the field is no accident. He says he took his time last year to learn everything he could from Thorpe and it's paying off now.
"Playing behind Justin last year, I just learned a lot about the ins and outs of the offense," Ayres said of his back-up role last season. "Basically the main part was just getting the offense down in detail. It was about learning why certain things worked in different places. The biggest part of our offense is execution. If we can execute our routes and blocks up front, our offense will run smoothly."
Added Scott, "The biggest thing is Tarian played in four games last year. He started two games and finished two games. He's gotten real live game experience and he understands the speed of the game. He's done a great job of taking over a leadership role and our guys have begun to follow him."
But it's been a team-wide mentality that everyone has fully supported.
While last season the Trojans were predicted to finish near the bottom of the CIAA — they were ranked at preseason No. 10 — Virginia State spent much of last season proving the ranking to be false. In fact, the Trojans 9-1 mark was the first time the team finished with just one loss in a season since 1993.
It was enough for Virginia State to gain enough respect around the league to be predicted to finish in first place in the Northern Division and No. 3 overall in the CIAA. However, the increased expectations have not changed mentality around the team. In fact, the amount of passion exhibited during the live scrimmage showed exactly what the team intends to do and that's to continue to play with the same amount of fire and determination which was instrumental in last year's successful campaign.
Tarian Ayres appeared in four games last season and his live game experience will be important this season.
"We're still playing like we are the 10th best team in the league," Ayres said of his teammates. "We still see ourselves that way. It's the way we saw ourselves last year and last year we had a great year, but it's a new season. We just want to make another run at it."
That's exactly the type of mindset Scott and his staff want from their team as their season inches ever closer to the Sept. 6 kick-off.
"It's business as usual for us," Scott said of the mind-set. "We've got to make sure Virginia State gets better from here on. We won some games last year that we probably shouldn't have won, but we have to sure we position ourselves to be smiling on Saturday nights."
While the loss of an experienced starter could cripple some programs, the Trojans have a ready-made substitution ready to step up and showcase his own talent in order to keep Virginia atop the Northern Division this season.