Blue Raider fans will see a new number under center for the remainder of the regular season.
After redshirt sophomore quarterback Brent Stockstill went down with a broken collarbone in the second quarter against UTSA, redshirt freshman John Urzua took the reins and is expected to do so for the last three games of the regular season.
That means his first collegiate start will be Saturday at Marshall.
“As you can imagine, there’s a lot of excitement,” Urzua said. “It’s a good way for me to take advantage of opportunities presented to me.”
It’s easy to see what kind of quarterback Urzua is – he has a big arm and likes to play from the pocket. But why do the Blue Raiders have so much faith in him stepping into the starting lineup?
To start, the even-keeled 19-year-old from Suwanee, Georgia, doesn’t let big moments get the better of him. He’s also been in this position before.
When Urzua was a junior at North Gwinnett High School, he was similarly thrust into a starting role when the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback went down with an injury. Oddly enough, it was also the coach’s son there that Urzua relieved, just like with Stockstill at Middle Tennessee.
“I think just having that under my belt already and knowing that I can do this and that I’ve done it before makes me feel good about it,” Urzua said. “The level of competition is different, but it’s the same situation as before.”
What is different about his relief appearance at MT is the cast surrounding him. Urzua steps into an offense that includes the best offensive line, leading rusher and third-leading receiver in Conference USA.
The Blue Raiders have given up a conference-best 10 sacks in 9 games, while redshirt senior I’Tavius Mathers has racked up 1,145 rushing yards and redshirt sophomore Richie James averages 125.8 receiving yards per game.
“I’m very confident behind the offensive line,” Urzua said. “They’re a great group of guys and know what they’re doing, and then it’s on me to make sure I don’t put myself in a situation to take a sack.
“I also have a lot of confidence in I’Tavius running the ball, and Richie can get open better than anybody. Then I also have Dennis [Andrews] on the outside, Pat [Smith], Ty Lee – I’m surrounded by great guys, so I shouldn’t have a problem.”
Urzua’s path to football was a rather unique one. Neither of his parents are originally from the U.S. and no one in his family had any American football playing experience. His mom is from England and played lacrosse growing up, and his dad is from Chile and played rugby and soccer.
It was obviously a big change for them when Urzua and his younger brother, Jimmy, a junior at North Gwinnett, started playing football.
“They both didn’t know what football was before they got here, so when I came home one day and told them I wanted to play football my mom thought I was talking about ftbol (soccer),” Urzua said. “I went out there and told my coaches I was great at hitting people, but then when the first day of pads came I realized I was not and quickly moved to quarterback.”
Once he made the switch to QB, he developed a big arm that has led him to this point in his career. As he prepares for Saturday’s game, he will lean on that arm, not so much his legs, to try and get the Blue Raiders back on track after the loss to UTSA.
“I wish I could run more, but I’m not the fastest,” he said. “I like to sit in there and read things out and make throws, but I can get out and escape if I have to.”
When game day finally comes, you will probably be able to find Urzua in the locker room mincing it up with his teammates in the same undershirt he always wears for games.
“I’m very superstitious about stuff,” he said. “I always have to wear the same undershirt, sometimes the same pair of socks from the week before, as long as they’re clean.
“I’m not a guy who sits down in a corner and listens to music and stays to myself; I like to talk with people, have fun, put a smile on my face and enjoy the moment.”
Getting three wins in the final three weeks of the regular season will surely keep the smile on Urzua’s face. In order to do that, he knows he has to have confidence in the players around him to make plays.
They already have that confidence in him.