Jake Luton went through his “senior” season last year, taking part in Senior Day activities prior to the Civil War and receiving a framed jersey.

However, there was always the thought in the back of his mind that it might not have been his last chance to play college football.

It turns out those thoughts turned out to be true as the NCAA granted Luton a sixth year of eligibility in January. Luton, a transfer from Ventura Community College after a stop at Idaho, saw his 2017 campaign cut short in the fourth game of the season after suffering a thoracic spine fracture.

“It’s pretty amazing to kind of go through your senior year and then get to do it all over again,” Luton said. “But I think it will be a little different. Last year there was kind of talk the whole time that I might be able to get the sixth year, maybe not. ... I think the whole time it was kind of like, is it going to be my last, is it not? So for this year to kind of go out and know, I can just leave it all out there."

Given another season, Luton once again found himself in a battle to be the starting quarterback. And once again, the 6-foot-7 signal caller impressed the coaches enough to earn the starting job over Tristan Gebbia, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Nebraska.

Coach Jonathan Smith made it official on Friday, one week before the Beavers open the 2019 campaign against Oklahoma State inside Reser Stadium.

“It really started in January and the work he put in, the body of work through spring practice and fall camp,” Smith said. “I will say I think Tristan really made it tight the last week and a half the way he was playing. But we just felt at the end of the day Jake deserves to go first.

“I still feel confident we’ve got two guys we can score points with.”

It’s the second straight season Gebbia has been beaten out for the starting position.

“Really impressed with the way Tristan has handled the last couple days among his teammates and he’s still bringing a great energy to practice,” Smith said. “He’s one play away. He’s got a bright future here and I didn’t see any difference in the way he practiced today than the way he’s been going the last couple weeks.”

After battling injures the past two seasons — Luton was named the starter last year then suffered a concussion early in the opener at Ohio State before an ankle injury later limited him to eight games — the biggest question once again will be if Luton can stay on the field.

“That’s the plan every year,” Luton said with a smile. “Hopefully I’ll be able to.”

So far so good, and Luton said he is as healthy as he has been. It’s made a huge difference in his play and his attitude.

“To see him running around, to see him actually enjoying playing football now that he’s healthy and he feels good out there every day, it’s fun to see that,” senior tight end Noah Togiai said. “You can see him having fun is making him a much better player."

Added defensive lineman Elu Aydon: “He’s done a great job. You can really tell the difference between his game from last year and this year. He’s really taken that leadership role into great consideration. He’s done a great job and we’ve got a good one in (No.) 6.”

That health has led to better mobility and the ability to escape the pocket, something Luton said he had been able to do dating back to high school, while at Idaho and later at Ventura Community College.

“I’m having a great time and of course not having to battle with (injures) is great, makes things a lot easier and you can just kind of go out and enjoy football, enjoy the guys,” Luton said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve just been trying to make the most of it. It’s my real last go around and just trying to live it up every moment.”

Luton, who threw for 1,660 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, is one fo four team captains, along with Blake Brandel, Gus Lavaka and Andrzej Hughes-Murray.

“That’s a huge honor,” Luton said. “Being named a starter is really cool and something that I obviously wanted to do and expected, but being named captain and knowing that the guys view me as that is something that is really special to me and means a lot to me.”

While that jersey Luton received last November is hanging on a wall in his apartment, he expects a second one to join it in a few months.

“I told coach Smith they’ve got to give me another framed jersey,” he said.

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald