College Sports

UC Davis’ incumbent QB Ben Scott leads competition for starter

UC Davis’ Ben Scott, getting his ankles taped before practice last week, earned Big Sky Conference honorable mention  recognition last season.
UC Davis’ Ben Scott, getting his ankles taped before practice last week, earned Big Sky Conference honorable mention recognition last season.

If junior Ben Scott stays healthy and continues to hone his considerable skills, he will return as the starting quarterback this fall, when UC Davis embarks on its 97th football season.

Although third-year coach Ron Gould stopped short of publicly anointing Scott as his starter at a spring practice earlier this week, his admiration for the quarterback’s tangibles and intangibles was apparent.

“Ben has done some great things this spring,” Gould said. “He’s a tremendous leader for us. He understands where to go with the ball, and he’s playing really fast. That’s been a treat to see.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Vanden High School graduate has been locked in an energized competition with senior Turner Baty and redshirt freshman C.J. Spencer (Inderkum High School) during the Aggies’ 15 spring practice sessions that began April 1 and culminate on Saturday at 11 a.m. with the annual spring game.

Last season, Scott replaced a sputtering London Lacy midway through the season and started the last six games for the injury-ravaged Aggies.

Scott finished the season with 1,734 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to earn Big Sky Conference honorable mention recognition. UCD finished 2-9 overall and 1-7 in conference.

Gould and third-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin Daft seek continuity at a position where they have had two starters in each of the past two seasons.

Two years ago, Boise State transfer Jimmy Laughrea unseated four-year starter Randy Wright for four games before Wright regained the job. Last season, Lacy held off Scott in the fall to earn the opening-day start but eventually went to the bench.

“Last year, London was the front-runner; he was a senior,” Scott said. “Now it’s my job to lose, and Turner and C.J. are bringing it. They’re playing really well in the spring. But it’s a healthy competition.”

Scott said there’s a special fraternity among quarterbacks because of how closely they work together and the demands of their position.

“I think there’s this perception that we don’t really like each other because only one guy gets to play,” Scott said. “Randy and London were best friends. They were inseparable on and off the field, and they lived together Randy’s senior year. I saw the brotherhood they had despite being competitors and bought into it.”

Scott had a history with Lacy. They played on the same youth football team in Los Banos. Lacy was the starting quarterback and Scott a rarely used wide receiver. But when Lacy moved up a level the next season, Scott became the quarterback.

“Last year, London and I were really good friends,” Scott said. “C.J. and I are really good friends, and Turner and I used to go to the same quarterback coach (the late Tom Martinez) in the Bay Area when we were growing up. So we’re close-knit. We’re always trying to help each other get better.”

Spring has been all about distancing the Aggies from last year’s last-place finish in the 13-team Big Sky Conference. UCD suffered significant injuries on defense, but that allowed a number of younger players to gain experience.

UCD returns seven of its top eight tacklers from last season, led by junior strong safety Keleen Culberson, senior linebacker Artice Nelson (Del Campo) and junior free safety Zach Jones. Gould said Culberson, junior linebacker Russell Reeder, senior cornerback Shamawn Wright and senior defensive tackle Kyle DeVaughn have had outstanding springs.

Gould credited new defensive backs coach Wes Nurse and defensive-line coach David Braun with making an impact. They join veteran linebackers coach Jeff Copp and defensive coordinator Bert Watts.

“The defense has been playing really physical, swarming to the football,” Gould said. “You will see a much-improved defense this season.”

Scott said he enjoys spring practice after months of monotonous offseason conditioning and weight training.

“Football in the spring is fun,” Scott said with a smile. “At the end of the season, you just run and run and run, and then you just do more running. Then we run and condition, then we’ll run again. Then we’ll lift and run some more. When we finally get to do spring ball, where we actually get to play football, it’s exciting.”

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.