Portland State starter at QB still unknown

Portland State starter at QB still unknown

Published Aug. 29, 2012 10:27 a.m. ET

If Portland State coach Nigel Burton knows who his starting quarterback is, he isn't saying.

While most of the other Big Sky Conference teams appear settled at quarterback, and even the Pac-12's Oregon Ducks to the south finally named their starter on Friday, Burton is remaining mum about his choice until right before Saturday's opener against Montana's Carroll College.

Burton jokes - kind of - that he'll unveil his QB at 5:04 p.m. The game starts at 5:05 p.m.

''Even then I think our guys understand that that's just the first game,'' Burton said. ''The second game could be different, and the third game could be after that. We'll have to see what happens when the lights come on.''


The candidates include a pair of true freshmen, Kieran McDonagh and Paris Penn. The two newcomers have done so well that they're serious competition for junior quarterback Collin Ramirez and sophomore Josh Milhollin.

Another hopeful, speedy redshirt freshman Thomas Carter, has been moved to slot wide receiver.

Burton realizes he's lucky to have too many quarterback candidates rather than too few.

''I gotta admit it's pretty cool,'' he said. ''I think it's one of those things where you have to walk a fine line of making sure that a guy doesn't think that if he makes a mistake he's going to get yanked. You have to create a situation where you're giving multiple guys an opportunity without having to look over their shoulders.''

Going into fall camp, it appeared from afar that Ramirez had the edge. But at a practice this week, McDonagh was leading the first team.

The Vikings went 7-4 last season, 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference. That team was led by versatile senior quarterback Conner Kavanaugh, who rushed for a conference record 1,106 yards last season. Of his 16 touchdowns, nine came via pass and seven came on the run.

Under Burton, Portland State has led the Big Sky in rushing for the past two seasons.

McDonagh said he's also a dual threat, but at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he's more powerfully built than Kavanaugh. He even played linebacker at one point, so he's not afraid of contact when running the ball.

''He (Kavanaugh) did set a few records here, but I feel like I can fill those shoes. I don't know about this year but hopefully soon,'' McDonagh said. ''I think this team is special because offensively we're as talented - if not more so - than last year.''

McDonagh grew up just across the Oregon border in Vancouver, Wash. As a senior at Skyview High School, he threw for 2,637 yards and 24 touchdowns, and ran for 371 yards and seven TDs.

Penn, at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, is also a local kid who went to Portland's Grant High School, while Milhollin played in one game for the Vikings last year on special teams, but his season was cut short by a knee injury.

Ramirez came to the Vikings this year from Butte Junior College in California, where he was known for breaking Aaron Rodgers' school record with 30 touchdown passes last season.

''It makes things different in the sense that you get less reps, so you need to make the best of the reps you're given,'' McDonagh said about the competition. ''Everyone's rotating through, so you're not always with the same guys, so your timing might be off here and there. So it was a little difficult in the beginning, but now we're starting to feel more comfortable.''

Carroll College, Portland State's first opponent this season, is an NAIA-level school in Helena, Mont. Carroll played in its eighth NAIA national championship game in 10 years last season, falling 24-20 to St. Xavier of Illinois.

The Vikings will also play at North Dakota and Washington before hosting Southern Utah in the conference opener on Sept. 22.

Portland State has been selected to finish fourth in the Big Sky by both the league's coaches and the media that cover the team.