When Mississippi State begins spring football practice in two weeks, most eyes will be locked on the quarterback battle to replace Dak Prescott.
The Bulldogs will have four signal callers vying for the starting job but rising sophomores Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley are expected to be the leading candidates having served as Prescott’s primary back-ups this past season.
However, the competition for the starting job will have started started long before MSU takes to the practice fields on March 9. Fitzgerald and Staley have been battling for that role ever since they arrived on campus two years ago.
It is something that Staley is eagerly anticipating.
“I can’t wait, I love competition,” Staley said. “It’s always been a competition every day whether it’s getting reps or in the film room. You have to constantly be doing something to get better at all times. It’ll always be a competition between us until both of us walk out the door.”
Staley appeared in two games for the Bulldogs last season. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound southpaw completed 3 of 5 passes for 51 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while also rushing three times for 18 more yards.
“It was a real confidence builder,” Staley said. “Just going out there and having fun and gave me a lot of confidence going into the spring and next season as I try to fight for that position.”
Staley made his debut against Northwestern State on Sept. 19. He connected on two of his three throws, including a 37-yard touchdown to Joe Morrow. It had been nearly two years since he played in his last live game.
“I felt just fine going out there,” Staley said. “All that practice made consistency and I’d practiced so much. Practice is where you go out there and work on your craft and I felt like I was ready to go when it was time to play in the game.”
Staley’s next opportunity would come late in the Troy game but only saw abbreviated time while suffering from the same stomach illness that kept Prescott sidelined for most of that day.
“I was looking forward to that one but God didn’t want me out there for some reason,” Staley said. “Everything happens for a reason. I had a stomach bug but I felt okay to go in there at the end. Coach (Dan) Mullen didn’t want to put me out there when I was that sick.”
After the season ended, Staley briefly played basketball for Ben Howland. He logged a total of eight minutes over two games, grabbing a rebound and a steal and scoring one point.
Staley decided to leave the basketball team in mid-January to focus all of his attention on the gridiron and the competition he faces this spring.
The Marietta, Georgia native credits his development at the college level to Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. With their help, Staley feels like he is suited with the tools he needs to compete to be the Bulldogs’ starter in 2016.
“They’ve done a great job with me,” Staley said. “When I came in, I couldn’t read defenses. I was just playing off of athleticism. But now I’m learning different defenses and tendencies of different players. Honestly, it’s really helped me a lot.”