Eleven months ago, Jake Luton was carted off the Martin Stadium turf after suffering a thoracic spine fracture, ending his junior season at Oregon State.
It could have ended his playing career.
But the redshirt senior rehabbed and was ready to compete in spring camp, and exited those practices as one of three quarterbacks competing for the Beavers’ starting position.
After a lengthy battle, Luton was named the starter on Monday for the season opener at No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday in the Horseshoe.
“It’s an amazing feeling just being back out and getting an opportunity to play ball again,” Luton said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s been a long time coming so like I’ve said multiple times, I’m just excited.”
“I’m excited to play, I’m excited to get out there on Saturday and just put it on the field, everything we’ve been working for all year,” Luton added.
Luton said he knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
“There’s things that I need to keep working on but overall it’s been a good camp.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Lindgren said Luton began to shine after the second scrimmage and took control of the race.
“You could just tell when he was in there with the offense we really kind of moved to another level,” Lindgren said. “Just his consistency as we kind of came through we just felt like he was the right guy.”
Lindgren mentioned Luton’s accuracy, ability to make all the throws and his experience as factors that played into the decision to go with him as the starter.
“There were a couple two-minute drills when we made the quarterbacks live and he kind of took charge of it and went down and hit some passes and made some plays in that setting that kind of stood out to me,” Lindgren said.
Luton isn’t as mobile as Connor Blount and Jack Colletto, the two quarterbacks he battled for the starting job, so Lindgren won’t be able to use the entire playbook with Luton. But that would have been the case regardless of who started.
“He limits you a bit,” Lindgren said. “He doesn’t move as well as those other guys and there’ll be some things with the quarterback involved in the run game that we just won’t call with Jake and then some things if those guys were in there that we would open up. It limits you a little bit that way but it also opens up some things in the pass game and the play-action game.”
Luton’s fellow offensive teammates said all camp that the quarterback battle wasn’t a distraction and they were more focused on their roles.
“It’s kind of weird, they all kind of mold together and you can’t really tell the difference,” left tackle Blake Brandel said. “There were times during camp I was like I don’t know who’s playing quarterback right now, because we’ve got to focus on our stuff. I have the utmost confidence in this guy and I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing with him.”
Running back Artavis Pierce said Luton has developed into a strong leader.
“It made me feel good because he’s a great leader, he takes the team under his wings,” he said. “I just feel like he’s a great guy, he knows what it takes to win so I feel like they made a good decision.
With such a long journey back, there’s sure to be some butterflies come Saturday.
“Yeah, it’s probably going to be up there but you know those big games are fun,” he said. “The energy is kind of there and you show up and you can just feel it and you know you’re ready to go.”
That excitement, not just with Luton, is just fine with Lindgren.
“I tell the guys just enjoy it,” Lindgren said. “There’s not a lot of people who get the chance to play on the road at Ohio State, so enjoy the moment. But at the time, stay in the moment, focus on what your responsibility is on that particular play and I think that’s the mindset that we’ve really been preaching all camp. … If we can stack a bunch of plays, good plays on top of each other, we’ll get the results we’re looking for.”