Ryan Willis

Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis takes reps during practice on Aug. 3.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente named Ryan Willis the starting quarterback for the 2019 season opener against Boston College.

The decision was announced to the team earlier in the week after the coaching staff held a series of meetings to discuss each position.

Fuente pointed to Willis’ experience and consistency as key factors in the decision. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen provided a more detailed analysis of what set Willis apart from Tech’s other quarterbacks.

“He can make plays,” Cornelsen said. “He’s a really talented thrower. He’s got good instincts. The game’s not too fast for him...He’s accurate with the ball. He’s got a really strong, quick release. Instinctively in the passing game, anticipating windows, the touch on the ball, all those little things about throwing the ball, he’s got. He’s got that talent.”

It’s the fourth time Willis has been named a starting job (second time for Virginia Tech) going back to his freshman year at Kansas in 2015. Willis arrived in Blacksburg as a transfer without a scholarship when the Jayhawks decided to go in a different direction at the position.

“This is my fourth year being a starting Division I quarterback,” Willis said. “Not many people can say that. That’s a pretty cool position to be in. I’ve got through a lot of stuff. Ups and downs, ups and downs. The one thing that has remained constant the whole time is my love for the game. I love football. I love stepping on the field and competing. And I’m going to do everything I can for this team.”

After sitting out a year and earning a scholarship, he still wasn’t sure if he would ever start another college game.

“I’m human,” Willis said. “We’re all emotional people. We have emotional feelings. We get knocked down and you’ve got to pick yourself back up. Nothing is easy. I definitely haven’t taken the easiest route. I’ve really never had anything handed to me from the get-go. It made me the person I am today and I don’t know. It’s tough.”

Willis threw for 2,716 yards (58.5%) with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions when he stepped into the starting role after Josh Jackson suffered a leg injury against Old Dominion in Week 3. He was 4-6 as a starter, but made key plays in the Commonwealth Cup and season-finale against Marshall to keep the team’s record bowl streak alive.

That experience gave Willis an advantage in the competition going into spring camp, but needed to outperform Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson throughout the offseason to win the top spot.

Tech narrowed the competition down to Willis and Hooker after the team’s first two scrimmages of fall camp. Fuente continued to praise the strides Hooker made during the off-season and named him the No. 2 quarterback.

“Hendon has put a tremendous amount of work in and has improved greatly,” Fuente said. “I feel really comfortable with him... I feel really good about both of those guys. Quincy will be the third guy. He continues to work hard and develop. We’ll see how those roles all play out.”

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Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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