By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Will Lankford has been getting plenty of chances with the Elon football team as the Phoenix sorts out the quarterback position heading into the season.
“Just as a team, trying to figure out each other more and more and getting more plays down,” Lankford said. “The team will go as the quarterback play goes. It’s no pressure. It comes with the territory.”
Lankford is one of the candidates for Elon’s starting quarterback. The Phoenix begins its season August 31 at Wake Forest.
“I push myself to become a better player every day,” Lankford said. “I also know at the end of the day, my team is going to push me whether I’m the first string or third string, just like last year. I don’t look at myself as being the guy. I just look at myself as being a player on the team.”
Knowing that the Phoenix lost Matthew McKay who exhausted his eligibility, it was clear the quarterback position needed to be addressed.
Coach Tony Trisciani said Elon purposely didn’t bring in a transfer quarterback in January. That’s because he said it was vital to give Lankford and Justin Allen as many of the quarterback snaps as possible throughout the spring.
“The spring was very valuable for Will,” Trisciani said. “He needed those reps.”
By the end of the spring, Lankford had emerged as the team’s first-string quarterback.
Since then, the arrival of graduate transfer Matthew Downing, who has made stops at Georgia, Texas Christian, and Louisiana Tech, has given the coaching staff another option to access.
The August workouts have been an extension of the past year for Lankford, who’s from Pelham, Alabama.
“I learned a lot from Matt (McKay) and Justin and even Joey – while he was hurt, he tried to help me as much as he can,” Lankford said. “It has kind of helped me with how my role has grown.”
There’s lots to like about Lankford. Trisciani said the redshirt freshman has a big arm and can extend plays with his legs, though there might not be as many designed running plays with Lankford as there was a year ago for McKay.
“He’s talented,” Trisciani said. “We saw it when he was on the scout team.”
Lankford was fourth on the depth chart when the 2022 season began, then moved up a rung when backup Joey Baughman sustained a season-ending injury in the opener at Vanderbilt. Allen was listed as the primary backup last year.
“We now have two or three pretty good QBs,” running back Jalen Hampton said. “Last year, we relied on (McKay).”
Lankford said he knew to be prepared last year.
“I wasn’t necessarily thrown into the fire, but I was definitely closer to it,” he said. “I haven’t played a snap yet.”
Lankford, whose aim during the summer was to build more connections with receivers, said junior running back Malik Griffin has been a good mentor.
“He just taught me how to work,” he said. “He showed me how to be a great player and a better teammate.”
This summer, there’s also the process of getting Downing ready.
“We’re getting him up to speed on the offense,” Trisciani said. “He’s bringing competition and maturity. Regardless of who the starter is, Matt has brought a lot of maturity in the room.”
Hampton, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the 2022 season by averaging nearly 96 yards per game on the ground, provides stability in the offensive backfield. He likes how Lankford has developed.
“He’s going to be ready when the time comes,” Hampton said.
CAA adds Bryant
The Coastal Athletic Association announced Bryant University will join the conference’s membership for football beginning in 2024. The Rhode Island school is a current member of the Big South-Ohio Valley Conference Football Association. Bryant’s addition will bring the CAA’s football membership to 16 schools.