HUNTINGTON — It isn’t often you’ll see a freshman in his second year as a starting quarterback.
Nor is it often that said freshman has three years’ experience within the system with his offensive coordinator. That is the situation with Marshall quarterback Grant Wells, however.
Wells, Conference USA’s all-conference first-team quarterback in 2020, returns as a third-year freshman due to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This season will be plenty different for Wells, however, as he lines up behind center in the scheme of new head coach Charles Huff, which brings plenty of changes for the 2021 season.
“I mean, geez, what has stayed the same?” Wells said. “My (position) coach has stayed the same, but other than that, that’s about it. We have a lot of new faces around here.”
Wells’ role enhanced under the new staff with Huff emphasizing the quarterback position and running an aerial-based scheme that will have the Herd taking downfield shots and allowing athletes on the outside go make plays.
The former George Washington standout also benefits from being the only position group to return his coach from the 2020 staff in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Cramsey, with whom Wells has worked for the last three seasons.
In addition to having Cramsey back to continue their relationship, Wells also has on staff tight ends coach Bill Legg, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Wells was being recruited, adding a further comfort level with coaches who know his game well.
One coach on the offensive staff that Wells is eager to work with is also wide receivers coach Clint Trickett, who played quarterback at West Virginia and is someone Wells grew up following.
Trickett’s experience as a quarterback allows him to coach wide receivers on technique and also what a quarterback is looking for with certain routes, which helps build chemistry between Wells and his targets.
“I watched him play a lot, so that’s someone I’m very excited to go pick his brain and try to gain as much knowledge from him because I know he’s got the experience to back his information up,” Wells said.
Wells is coming off a 2020 season in which he completed 61 percent of his passes and threw for 2,091 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Five of those interception came in a nightmarish 20-0 loss to Rice, meaning that efficiency was a strong point for Wells through the other nine games with 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Those numbers and Wells’ work throughout spring ball are strong enough to give Huff confidence in his signal-caller to execute his up-tempo attack in the future.
“I think he’s done a really good job,” Huff said.
Wells said his relationship with Huff was built from the start with Huff seeking him out to discuss the team and what the needs and demands are with the program moving forward.
Since then, Wells has been a sounding board for Huff as they look to make the transition into a new era of Marshall football.
“Me and him have had a lot of dialogue together, whether it’s stuff he can improve on, stuff we can improve on, so I’ve really tried to be that guy that he can go to that he can ask anything — what this team needs or stuff that can be changed around here,” Wells said.
While he’s in his third year, Wells made mention that this was the first full spring in which he got the majority of repetitions, which gave it a new feel for him.
In 2020, COVID-19 canceled all of spring drills, which limited the Herd’s ability to build the offense.
In 2019, the battle was between Isaiah Green and Alex Thomson with Wells and Luke Zban splitting third-team repetitions.
Wells said experiencing no spring practice last season gave him a greater appreciation for being able to go out and work on his game in spring 2021.
After starting the 2021 Spring Game slowly due to defensive pressure and adjustments to being in a game format, Wells was able to perform well in the second half of Green’s 34-10 win.
“It was just getting back in the swing of things — wearing real jerseys and playing out here in the Joan in front of friends,” Wells said. “It definitely took some time to get used to. A lot of these times it’s just thud periods in practice and you can’t replicate a game, so for the first time playing in front of fans and showing some new things on offense that we’re going to do, it took some time to finally get in the groove.”
As Wells and the Herd look to the summer, the work with receivers will continue to build chemistry and flow within the offense.
For Wells — or any quarterback — the Herd’s new offense is a dream come true with downfield shots and many pass plays at their disposal, so he wants to make sure his game is on point moving forward.
“Coach Huff and Cramsey have told me that we aren’t going to shy away from throwing the ball downfield,” Wells said. “We have the O-line to protect and we certainly have the receiving corps to go do that. It’s all about finding the right pieces and finding the right situations to do that. It’s going to be really fun.”