Sports

NCCU may go with two quarterbacks moving forward

North Carolina Central junior quarterback Naiil Ramadan threw for three touchdowns, all in the first half, as the Eagles defeated Saint Aug’s, 51-14, Saturday.
North Carolina Central junior quarterback Naiil Ramadan threw for three touchdowns, all in the first half, as the Eagles defeated Saint Aug’s, 51-14, Saturday. NCCU Athletics

Most football purest will tell you that if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have one.

North Carolina Central interim head coach Granville Eastman begs to differ. During Saturday’s 51-14 win over Saint Augustine’s, Eastman started redshirt junior Naiil Ramadan over sophomore Chauncey Caldwell. After the game Eastman said the switch was because Caldwell violated a team rule.

What Eastman discovered in the process, is that the team might benefit from using both signal callers the rest of the way.

As the man who still calls the defense, and served as the full-time defensive coordinator the previous four seasons, Eastman realizes the kinds of problems both quarterbacks create if he were a coach who had to prepare for the pair.

“There are a lot of college examples that show a two quarterback system will work,” Eastman said. “We have two capable young men. If I’m a defensive coordinator, preparing for both of those guys, it just extends my job. We kind of knew that coming into the season and this was a good time to let that system get going.”

Ramadan, who finished 15-28 for 169 yards and three scores, never started a game before Saturday and didn’t see any action in the season opener against Prairie View A&M. But the former Rocky River High quarterback has had his moments in an Eagles’ uniform.

His redshirt freshman season he came off the bench for an injured Malcolm Bell and led NCCU to a 21-17 road win over Morgan State, throwing a late touchdown pass to seal the win. Last season during a nationally televised ESPN game against South Carolina State, Ramadan came off the bench and threw one pass - that went for a touchdown - to spark the Eagles to a win after trailing 21-7. He’s been thrust into the spotlight before, and performed well.

Caldwell, the local star from Hillside High School, started eight games as a true freshman, and appeared to be the quarterback of the future. That very well still could be the case, but moving forward, there might be split reps for both, who each bring different styles. Ramadan, who has been in the system for four years, is a drop back passer who can run if needed. Last season Caldwell (6-3, 230) was a run first signal caller, who got better as a passer as the season progressed.

Against the Falcons, even though he didn’t play until the third quarter, Caldwell still led the team in rushing with 62 yards, averaging 12.4 yards a carry.

“Chauncey didn’t waste any time when he came in, whatsoever,” Eastman said.

On the first possession of the game, with 3:19 remaining in the third, Caldwell took his first touch 22 yards up the middle of the Falcon’s defense. He finished that drive with 32 yards on three carries, and ended the game with two touchdown passes.

Ramadan finished with three touchdown passes, all in the first half, getting NCCU off to the fast start that haunted them in the opener.

“Once Naiil got going you saw execution, you saw play making ability,” Eastman said. “That’s a great feeling as a head coach and it gives our offensive guys a lot of confidence that no matter which guy is in we can score points.”

It was the first time in the NCCU record books that two quarterbacks threw for at least two touchdowns in the same game. It was also the first time since 2005 that the Eagles have had five touchdown passes in one game.

When the team found out on Friday that Ramadan was getting the start, Caldwell became his biggest supporter, which bodes well moving forward.

“He was pretty helpful,” Ramadan said. “We support each other and it was good for both of us.”

This was the first time in Ramadan’s career that he had advance notice that he was starting, and wasn’t thrust into action suddenly. Eastman said it didn’t shock him that Ramadan responded the way he did.

“I think his demeanor fits that role,” Eastman said. “He doesn’t get out of sorts; he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low. You can start him and he’ll come in and do what he needs to, you bring him in (off the bench) and he’ll do what he needs to. I think that’s just a testament to him and the kind of young man he is. He doesn’t get distracted too much when it comes to quarterbacking and the on field task, and that really works to his advantage.”

Ramadan said he prepares every week as if he is going to play, no matter how many snaps he expects. It wouldn’t be wise, he said, to think about the number of snaps because you never know what might happen during the course of a game. Having been under offensive coordinator T.C. Taylor for four years now, Ramadan feels like an extension of the coach on the field and is comfortable no matter the situation, but he will go into this week with the same mindset regardless.

“However it comes,” Ramadan said. “I’ll be prepared.”

And no matter who takes the first snap, the team is ready to follow either of their capable quarterbacks.

“As a team you rally around whoever is going to take (control) of the ship and lead us,” junior safety Anthony Sherrill said. “If it’s both of them we can let it be both of them, if it’s one, we’ll let it be one. We just have to come together as a team, we’re really not trying to be in a quarterback controversy.”

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