Arizona State‘s 2019 football roster lists nine quarterbacks. That’s not a typo. Three short of a dozen.
And all of them have to feel like they have an equal shot at the coveted starting role since the guy who held that spot for the last three seasons has graduated, and none of those suitors have enough back-up time to help them stand out from the pack.
But none of those nine hopefuls will likely go through what their predecessor, Manny Wilkins, Jr., endured during his career in Tempe. The four-star recruit from northern California played for two different head coaches and four offensive coordinators during his four years at ASU, learning a new offensive system each time a change was made.
Despite that constant upheaval, Wilkins turned out to be one of the school’s best at that position. But not every Sun Devils fan realized just how good he was.
Names like Andrew Walter, Taylor Kelly, Mike Bercovici, Rudy Carpenter, and Brock Osweiler surface first in the minds of Sun Devils fans. But right now it’s hard to tell if Wilkins will be included in that elite group a few years down the road, as impressive as his stats were. The program was in such a state of flux during his time that the focus was more on coaching changes and personnel upheaval, rather than on the guy out on the field leading the offense.
Osweiler grabbed people’s attention simply by being one of the tallest quarterbacks in the country at 6-foot-8. He also went on to a pro career, which upped his visibility. But before he left, he became the first ASU player to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season — in his only season as a starter. He set school records for completions and completion percentage.
Kelly took over when Osweiler departed early for the NFL draft and set some school records of his own. He became just the third player in program history to pile up more than 10,000 career yards of total offense and set the career rushing record for a quarterback (1,404 yards). He led ASU to back-to-back 10-win seasons and three straight bowl appearances.
Bercovici gave fans a good, long look at him. He appeared in 41 games as a Sun Devil, starting 16 of those. He had three games in which he accounted for five touchdowns, second-most in school history, and the five TDs (with no interceptions) that he threw against USC in 2014 made him the first player in history to accomplish that against the Trojans. His name won’t fade from the headlines yet since he was recently signed to play for the Phoenix entry in the new pro league, the Alliance of American Football.
Walter and Carpenter are even farther removed from the current scene, with Carpenter joining the 2005 recruiting class and Walter starting his ASU career in 2001. Walter had to wait a couple of years before coming off the bench to re-write the ASU record books in just about every single-season and career offensive category. He set a Pac-12 record with 85 touchdowns to erase the 22-year-old mark set by John Elway.
Carpenter was on center stage in Tempe for almost four years. He took over the starting job midway through his freshman year and then became the face of the ASU program by starting the next 38 games to set an FBS record of 43 consecutive starts. He finished his college career ranked among the conference’s top 10 all-time in touchdowns, passing yardage, and completions.
But none of them had to adapt to four different offensive coordinators. That meant Wilkins had to prove himself on an annual basis to someone who didn’t know much about him and hope to be able to build a supportive relationship with each new OC.
And yet he was able to join Walter and Kelly as the only three quarterbacks in ASU history to post consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons. During the three seasons that Wilkins was the ASU starter, his pass completions never fell below 63 percent.
Todd Graham was the head coach who got Wilkins to commit following his junior year at San Marin High School in Novato, Calif. The dual-threat quarterback with a great arm had just finished a season in which he had put up almost 3,000 yards of total offense, 2,335 yards passing and another 567 rushing. He was ranked as No. 2 in the Golden State at his position and No. 15 in the nation.
He sat out a redshirt season his first year, and then was the back-up to Bercovici for the 2015 season, Bercovici’s last. The next year he wasn’t the favorite to take over Bercovici’s job. But he beat out a deep, talented group of hopefuls, including Brady White, a consensus top-10 recruit, and opened the 2016 season in the starting role — a job that he held for the next three years, despite intense competition each year from top incoming talent.
The Sun Devils’ OC that first year was Billy Napier, who began the grooming process on Wilkins. But he left after that season to take over as the new head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, and Mike Norvell took over the offense. Norvell departed to become head coach at Memphis, and he was replaced by Chip Lindsey, who also lasted just one season, leaving for a similar position at Auburn.
Wilkins finished up under the guidance of Rob Likens, who was the OC his senior year, as well as the quarterbacks coach. Under Likens’ tutelage, he threw for 3,025 yards and 20 touchdowns his final year and led the Devils to a bowl game in the debut season of new head coach, Herm Edwards. During his ASU career, Wilkins threw for 8,624 yards, 52 touchdowns, and had a completion rate of 63.2 percent.
He is expected to participate at the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, when the pro scouts will get a good look at the quarterbacks and receivers who will be in the next draft. His odds at catching on with an NFL team aren’t generally considered good, but a lot will depend on how much work he has been doing to get ready for the Combine.
But even if Wilkins doesn’t make it to the next level, his name will likely find its way on to that list of other great ASU signal callers.