Jake Luton is no stranger to quarterback competitions. So to find himself in a battle to be Oregon State’s starter entering the 2019 season is pretty much old hat.
“It feels like every other year,” the 6-foot-7, 229-pound sixth-year senior said at Wednesday’s media day. “I’ve been doing it for six years, longer than most people get to, and every year I’ve been part of a competition so it’s kind of just what I’m used to.
“It would probably feel more weird if I wasn’t. I’m excited for it, to go out and compete every day and just get after it.”
So that would mean Luton doesn’t really want coach Jonathan Smith to name him the starter after the first practice?
“I didn’t say that, nah I didn’t say that,” he responded with a smile.
Luton, who earned the starting nod for the Beavers in each of the last two seasons, is the frontrunner heading into training camp, which begins Thursday. They open the season Aug. 30 at home against Oklahoma State.
Luton will be battling Tristan Gebbia, a 6-2, 193-pound redshirt sophomore who sat out last season after transferring to Oregon State from Nebraska.
“I’m real excited to get back out there (Thursday),” Gebbia said. “I think that it’s going to be a great camp. I like the stuff we are doing on the offensive side of the ball and just to get back out there and start competing with the guys.”
The relationship between the two competitors is a healthy one, according to Gebbia.
“It’s great. Jake’s great. We’ve been pushing each other a lot in the offseason,” he said.” I’m excited for it. I think Jake’s a great guy. He brings a lot of experience to the quarterback room. Any way we can help each other we do, and I think it’s a great dynamic we’re establishing.”
While Luton, who received a sixth year of eligibility in January, has been the starter entering each of the last two seasons, injuries have cost him a number of games. He suffered a thoracic spine fracture in the fourth game in 2017 and missed the rest of the season.
Then he dealt with a concussion, suffered in the 2018 opener, and a high ankle sprain later in the season.
But he says he is feeling healthy and ready to go.
“I’ve been injured, I’ve been on the bad end of some things and it’s been tough but I think there’s some things I can do, healthwise, to make sure that doesn’t happen again and I’ve been trying to do that,” he said. “I’ve been moving better, and being able to escape some situations will definitely help out.”
Both players battled it out in the spring, along with junior Jack Colletto. Colletto, who made a start against Colorado last season, will still get some reps at quarterback but Smith said Wednesday he is also spending time at linebacker.
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren was asked Wednesday about the possibility of using a two-quarterback system.
“I feel really comfortable with both guys but I don’t see that happening,” he said. “I see us at some point during fall camp, got to talk to Jonathan more about what that timeline looks like, but I see us choosing a guy and running with him.”
Regardless of who gets the nod, Lindgren said the team knows it has two players capable of directing the offense.
Senior receiver Trevon Bradford said both worked with the first string during player-run practices during the summer and showed the ability to move the ball, be efficient and score points.
“They both established themselves as leaders on the team right away,” Bradford said. “Either one of them can get the job done. … Whoever they put out there, you’ve got to go out there and make plays regardless.”
While Lindgren said both players are similar, Luton has the bigger arm and the ability to get the ball down the field, he said. He also has the experience of playing in the system last season, when he completed 140 of 224 passes for 1,660 yards and 10 touchdowns to four interceptions in eight total games (five starts).
As for Gebbia, Lindgren described him as a “gym rat” and someone who is constantly working at his craft, asking questions and pushing himself to be the best he can be. He also likes how Gebbia gets the ball out of his hand.
“I think both guys are really accurate passers that have a good understanding of what we’re doing and I’m excited to watch them compete this fall,” Lindgren said.
Both players entered the summer knowing they would be in a position to earn the starting job and each one worked on areas they felt they needed to improve.
Gebbia said he's continued to work on learning the Beavers’ system.
“I got here about 10 months ago now and so I’ve just been continuing to work on that stuff through the offseason and study my plays and all that stuff,” he said. “Just keep getting ready. That stuff never ends as a quarterback. You’re always studying plays, watching film, learning fronts, pressures and coverages.”
Luton pointed to improving his leadership ability.
“I’m trying to be the best role model I can be for the team and trying to get them ready to go every day,” he said. “And kind of just give whatever I can from my experience, being this long into it, and helping some of the younger guys out.”
No matter who earns the starting position, they will have plenty of weapons to make their job a little easier.
“I think that there are a lot of great pieces that are in place that have shown what they can do out there already and a lot of guys that are going to come out of nowhere and surprise a lot of people,” Gebbia said.