Tyson Helton is going with his gut in naming Steven Duncan as the starting quarterback for Western Kentucky.
The head coach announced the redshirt junior as the starter after Tuesday’s final regular practice before game week begins for the Aug. 29 home opener against Central Arkansas. Duncan will earn the start, but graduate transfer Ty Storey will still play.
“Thought it was a very close battle,” Helton said. “I thought (Duncan) and Ty Storey were pretty even. Told both of those guys I’m going to go with my first instinct to run Steven out there. Ty will play, he’ll have a role. It’s going to be competition every single day, but we’ll run Ty out there. I don’t want to get into a quarterback spinning wheel, but if a guy is not performing, we’ll go next man up.
“But Steven will be the first one to run out there.”
Duncan and Storey were considered the two favorites for the starting job after Helton announced midway through fall camp the competition had been narrowed from all four eligible quarterbacks to two.
Davis Shanley and Kevaris Thomas joined Duncan as quarterbacks to play last year for WKU under former coach Mike Sanford, but Duncan is the most experienced of that trio. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound QB completed 108-of-187 pass attempts for 1,071 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games last season. He earned five starts in a carousel QB rotation with Shanley and Drew Eckels.
Of that trio, Duncan had the previous relationship with Helton, who recruited the signal caller out of Charleston, S.C., when he was previously WKU’s offensive coordinator.
Storey joined the program in the winter as a graduate transfer from Arkansas. He played 10 games last year for the Razorbacks and threw for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Helton said the battle was neck-and-neck between the two and there’s still no true separation. He plans to play both quarterbacks in some capacity. First and foremost, he wants Duncan to have confidence in being the starter and develop a rhythm without looking over his shoulder.
“Everybody has a different skill trait,” Helton said. “Ty is an athletic kid that can create and run around and we can move him out of the pocket and do some things. He has all the capabilities of running the system. He has to have a role as well to help us win. It’s not a point in time where Steven is going to play a quarter and then sometime Ty is going to be in there. It’s really about how the game’s going and have we established the rhythm of the game.”
Helton gave the nod of arm strength to Duncan, but said Storey can make all the same throws. He also gave the mobility edge to Storey.
“Both of them did a great job and both of them can help us win,” Helton said. “Really not one guy stood out. Both guys stood out and made mistakes. I wish I could look both men in the eye and say here’s why, but I’m going on gut instinct. A lot of times for the guy that’s not the quarterback, that’s hard to swallow. Ty has done a great job of being a great teammate and we’re going to need him to win.”
Helton reassured confidence in his other two quarterbacks. Shanley started four games last year and appeared in nine, throwing for 942 yards and six touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his pass attempts. Thomas appeared in two games and retained his redshirt status.
“I think Shanley and KT can run out there and give us what we need to win,” Helton said. “I want all those quarterbacks feeling like it’s a long season. Nothing stays the same and I have to be able to perform when my number is called. It’s an all-for-one mentality.”
Freshman wide receiver Manny Allen has not been with the team during fall camp and Helton doesn’t expect him to return by the start of class next week.
Allen is a 6-foot-2 receiver out of Moreno Valley, Calif., who was once committed to USC. He was an early enrollee who joined the Hilltoppers through spring practice, but entered the transfer portal in the summer.
He was still listed on WKU’s roster at the start of fall camp and Helton kept the opportunity open for Allen to return.
“Manny is not with us,” Helton said. “I don’t anticipate Manny being here with the start of school. I wanted to allow that opportunity to happen if it did – it didn’t. My best wishes to him. He’s a great kid. Who knows, you never know what’s going to happen out there. You may see Manny Allen again one day, you may not. As of right now, he won’t be with us.”
Helton also said the school is still awaiting a decision on linebacker Jaden Hunter’s eligibility. The coach said he’s hopeful the waiver will be granted, but the timetable is still unclear. Hunter is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker who played four games over two seasons at Georgia.