It’s not often that a quarterback has to deal with the three-man carousel. It’s even more rare for a quarterback to see his position coach move over to running backs. Redshirt sophomore Devin Leary saw the former situation last year and will deal with the latter this upcoming season with NC State. The difference? This time around there’s no question who the starting quarterback will be for the year.
Leary essentially won the job by process of elimination during the 2019 season. Matt McKay was too gun-shy, Bailey Hockman too ineffective, so head coach Dave Doeren had no choice but to let his quarterback of the future take his lumps. At the end of the year, Leary had started five games, thrown for over 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns against five interceptions on a decidedly unsexy 48.1% completion rate. Still, the in-game experience should help Leary hit the ground running this year.
“It was huge, getting those in-games repetitions. It really just helped me become more comfortable in the game,” Leary said. “Get more comfortable with the pace of the game as well and just learning from everything that I can from last year, being able to take everything that I learned on and off the field and enhance my game even more for this upcoming season.”
After last year’s final loss to UNC to close out the year, the team seemed to be chomping at the bit to get back to work and improve for the next year. Then COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic just as spring camp got rolling, forcing the players to travel home. Leary returned to New Jersey, but made sure to spend time with his receivers whenever and however he could.
“We made it a weekly habit to throw for like three times a week to try to catch up for what we missed,” said redshirt junior wide receiver Thayer Thomas. “In March, April, May, he would come down for a week or two here and there. We would just go to local fields and throw or even sometimes a baseball field, wherever we could. We definitely got work in when, probably, we should have been in the house, but we had to make it happen.”
Leary didn’t just work with his teammates. Though he couldn’t see the NC State coaches in person, he linked with Malcolm Bell, a quarterback consultant who runs Undefeated Quarterback Training. Bell has worked with other Division I quarterbacks, like Notre Dame’s Brendon Clarke and Duke’s Quentin Harris.
“I had a really good opportunity just to work with him, just picking his brain a little bit,” Leary said. “He's worked with multiple quarterbacks that play in the ACC. We just focused on little, short things, such as just quickening up my throwing motion, footwork things, typical quarterback stuff, but it was really good to work.”
Instability has been the name of the game for the past half year, but new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck should be a rock for NC State’s quarterbacks room. Doeren has praised Beck’s ability as a teacher, and he’s got previous proteges Sam Ehlinger and Adrian Martinez to prove he knows what he’s doing. But it doesn’t matter how good an offensive coordinator’s play calls are if the guy on the field can’t execute. Leary missed reads at times last year and let the defense speed him up, but those around him see a different player taking the field in Carter-Finley Stadium this fall. This is his team, and it will go where he takes it.
“I saw a difference in Devin since he's played from last year,” Thomas said. “It was tough for him at first because he was a three going into last season. I just told him to stay positive because I felt like he could be the guy at any point in the season... Ever since he started playing last year, I feel like he’s made it known that he's the guy now so we went with it. I've definitely seen his confidence go up."