In comparison to last season, this spring the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions officially have two quarterbacks in competition. However, in contrast to last season, both quarterbacks have game-time experience in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Senior quarterback Shannon Patrick and sophomore quarterback Skyler Perry both had their times to shine last season. After initially winning the job in the fall, Patrick went down with a broken hand after two starts. In relief, Perry came in as a true freshman to get his first start against Prairie View A&M on Sept. 22, 2018.
Perry went on to start the final eight games of the season. After completing 177/294 passes for 1,748 yards and eight touchdowns, Perry was named a Stats FCS Finalist for Jerry Rice Award for Freshman of the Year.
In his two starts, Patrick completed 27/36 passes for 678 yards and six touchdowns. At that pace, Patrick was on his way to a record-breaking season, but the broken hand derailed that.
"The biggest thing is you have one that started nine and another one who started two," Thomas said. "Both of these guys have played a lot of football. Shannon was with us last spring and he did a great job. He started off as our quarterback then he broke his hand, and Skyler picked it up from there. They're being graded on every rep. They're both playing on a high level. They both have experience playing college football, and they know what to do."
Having experience at the quarterback position has benefited the flow of the spring, according to Thomas. Both Patrick and Perry are comfortable in the offense, whereas last spring the quarterbacks were learning everything.
"They just know it," Thomas said. "Whether win, lose or draw, we can actually go out and play a game today. We're just honing in on the details and fundamentals so it'll become second nature. We're light years ahead of where we were last year."
UAPB Quarterbacks Coach Doc Gamble has built relationships with both quarterbacks after coming in with Thomas last season. Having familiarity with Gamble has been a plus for Patrick and Perry.
"Having staff retention is just making all of our jobs that much easier," Thomas said. "With new coaches, kids have to learn different styles and systems and it can be difficult. They know coach Gamble and they know what he wants. He always keeps them on edge because he's so detailed. He's the calm that gets them through the storm, and it's always good to have that."
When it comes to their relationship on and off the field, Patrick and Perry are close-knit. They support each other, and they respect the competition that the other brings. Thomas sees it as nothing less than a benefit to have two guys who welcome each other's presence as they do.
"They're each other's biggest fans," Thomas said. "They're always high fiving each other and shaking hands. They also get on each other when they make a bad throw or decision. When Shannon broke his hand, Skyler was right there to pick him up, and Shannon was right there and didn't miss a game in supporting Skyler. They have to continue to push each other. It's a good position to be in when you have two guys that have played in college football games."
Through the first two practices, Perry seems to have better timing than Patrick. It's been months since Patrick has thrown the ball, and over the spring Thomas expects him to progress.
"Skyler hasn't missed a beat," Thomas said. "Skyler is way ahead of Shannon as far as timing. Shannon hasn't thrown a football in while, so that's what we expect. In time they'll both be right where they need to be, and they'll continue to give an assertive effort in practice every day."