COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In less than two weeks, Zeb Noland has gone of from helping South Carolina players prepare for the season to being named the Gamecocks starting quarterback.
In an odd twist, the one-time team grad assistant will start the year as South Carolina's QB against Eastern Illinois on Saturday night.
Noland wasn't even part of the mix earlier this month until expected starter Luke Doty suffered a mid-foot sprain and the Gamecocks had no one in the quarterback room who had taken snaps in a major college football game.
That is, until Noland gave up his spot on staff to put the pads back on.
“Is it a little bit unique? Yes,” South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer said Tuesday. “But remember he played in a game a few months ago.”
That's not something you hear everyday from a coach in the SEC.
Noland's last game action was at North Dakota State where Noland started seven games in the spring season and led the team with 740 yards of total offense. He could've remained with the Bison, but gave up his eligibility to join Beamer's first year program.
In a numbers crunch as a result of Doty's injury two weeks ago, Beamer looked to Noland to fill in. Right from the start, Beamer said, Noland gave the offense a snap that was missing in workouts — and the coach and Noland's teammates say it has continued.
“You can tell he knows his stuff,” Gamecocks receiver Jalen Brooks said. “It's been very impressive.”
Noland, a 6-foot-2, 232-pound player from Watkinsville, Georgia, began his college career at Iowa State, where he threw for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns as a reserve before transferring to North Dakota State.
Noland worked alongside San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick Trey Lance with the Bison and assumed the starting role when Lance opted out of the team's spring season.
Noland joined the Gamecocks staff in June and worked at putting together game plans among other things. Brooks recalled how he'd stay after workouts to do extra drills with Doty while Noland would oversee and help on throws. That, wide receiver said, gave him an on-field connection with Noland that has gotten better the past two weeks.
“I already got a head start” on bonding with the new quarterback, Brooks explained.
When Noland took the field at South Carolina, Beamer saw a polished, efficient player who got the team in and out of its schemes quickly and with the demeanor of a leader.
Beamer said Noland's first practice period during which he faced only blitzes was the most impressive performance by any group in camp.
Noland also has experience playing in a Power Five conference.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell texted with Noland when he was heading to join Beamer's staff and Campbell thought it was a great opportunity for Noland to start a coaching career. Noland is always prepared for the situation, Campbell said.
“I think it makes sense that that this opportunity came his way and he was able to capitalize on it,” Campbell said.
It's the second straight season South Carolina has opened the season with a grad transfer as starting quarterback. A year ago, it was fifth-year senior Collin Hill from Colorado State who began the season.
Hill lasted until coach Will Muschamp's dismissal in mid-November when interim coach Mike Bobo had Doty start the final two games in South Carolina's 2-8 season.
Beamer told Noland and St. Francis (PA) transfer Jason Brown, who were vying to replace Doty, about the decision Monday.
Brown was disappointed he lost out, but said he will stay ready and support Noland.
“I love Zeb and I hope he does the best,” Brown said.
Beamer told Brown that he'd see action Saturday against Eastern Illinois as well.
Doty's recovery from his foot injury is progressing well, Beamer said, and he may be ready to go when South Carolina plays at East Carolina on Sept. 11.
Doty is wearing tennis shoes at practice and no longer needs a walking boot, a soft cast or a scooter to get around as he recovers.
Beamer was asked twice if Doty, a sophomore who can run as well as pass, would regain the starting spot once healthy or would he have to compete with Noland for the job. Beamer, coaching his first game as a college head coach this week, wouldn't bite.
“That's for another time,” Beamer said. “We concentrating fully on Eastern Illinois.”
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