WILLIAMSBURG — In 2017, Kevin Jarrell was a one-man cheat-code for the Monticello High School football team, finishing his career as the program’s all-time leader in multiple offensive categories.
Two years later, the former Central Virginia Offensive Player of the Year will look to leave his mark on the defensive side of the ball at William & Mary after switching from quarterback to linebacker.
“I was kind of oversized to be a quarterback, I guess, in the first place. I get that all the time,” Jarrell said during William & Mary media day at Zable Stadium. “Physically, everything is good on that part, it’s just trying to learn a different language. Overall, I kind of have an understanding going in.”
A student of the game, Jarrell is no stranger to defense. He played free safety and quarterback at Monticello and was a leader on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs.
He become the program’s all-time leader in total yards (8,482), passing yards (5.593) and rushing yards for a quarterback (2,888), which ranks third in school history. The 2017 Central Virginia Offensive Player of the Year set single-season records with 3,513 yards of total offense and 49 touchdowns. He finished his high school career with 35 touchdown passes and 58 rushing touchdowns.
Despite the video-game like numbers, the recruiting process was not as vibrant for Jarrell.
“I wasn’t one of those guys that were highly recruited out of high school,” he said. “I think it was that summer I got the offer from [William & Mary]. I fell in love with the place and really wanted to go into the business school, which was a big reason I came here.”
Jarrell redshirted last season as he found himself behind four other players on the QB depth chart. The situation got tougher earlier this spring when former Virginia coach Mike London was named head coach at William & Mary, taking over for long-time coach Jimmye Laycock.
The competition got steeper this spring as Kilton Anderson, a grad transfer from Coastal Carolina, and two highly regarded freshmen enrolled last semester to join the team in time for spring practice.
With seven quarterbacks on the roster, London knew decisions needed to be made about the quarterback position. Senior Brandon Battle and junior Dean Rotger made the switch to wide receiver while Jarrell moved to linebacker.
“The opportunity to play and their opportunity to be selfless, and their wiliness to want to help the team in some sort of capacity,” London said of the quarterbacks switching positions. “It was just a fact that you just can’t have a whole bunch of guys back there playing that position. We approached them with it and they took it and they said ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I can do to help the team win,’ and you appreciate that part about them as well.”
Jarrell said he had some dialogue with the coaching staff, including first-year quarterbacks coach Brennan Marion, about a possible alternative.
“A couple weeks into that, they mentioned some possibilities of playing running back and maybe playing some defense,” Jarrell said. “Then it was maybe the first or second week in July, Coach Marion called me up and asked if I would be down to play some defense and I was like sure, if it helps the team win some ball games, I’ll do whatever you need me to do. Since then, I’ve just been trying to learn [the defense].”
Jarrell met with defensive coordinator Vincent Brown at the start of camp and the two have been ironing out a plan to utilize his unique skillset.
“He literally just came over a few days ago, but one of the things that he has is he’s a really good athlete,” Brown said. “So, he’s brought some tremendous athleticism and size to the position. We’re excited to watch practice get going.”
Brown has been impressed with what he’s seen. Brown said Jarrell has all the tangible football traits, including strength, athleticism, speed and a high football IQ.
“He’s very smart, so he’s picking up things,” Brown said. “He sees the field like most quarterbacks, so he’s got excellent vision, and we’re just excited to get him in pads and now see, here are the things that linebackers have to be able to do on a consistent basis to be able to play. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do it, it’s just going to take a little bit of time to transition to the position. I’m very excited about it.”
The plan is to work Jarrell into the outside linebacker position and utilize his athleticism, both as an edge rusher as well as in coverage on slot receivers and underneath routes.
Although he’s still early on in the process of becoming a college linebacker, Jarrell feels that playing quarterback has helped make for a smooth transition.
“I think just understanding defenses as a quarterback helps,” he said. “Guys are so focused on their job and what they’re supposed to do in their position, but I think playing quarterback, I understand the whole big picture of defenses and that’s kind of helped me learn this defense pretty quickly.”
He also credits teammates such as Jarrett Heckert and some of the more experienced guys for helping him with the terminology.
“I’m getting there,” Jarrell said. “I’ve been doing a lot of studying, that’s for sure. I had a couple weeks in July when I was down here with some of the older guys that really helped me out before camp started so I had a pretty good understanding coming in. I’m just kind of working more on the physical stuff, just because I’ve never done that stuff before. Once I get up to that, I think I should be pretty good.”
In addition to defense, Jarrell is a candidate to see action on punt and kick coverage.
Special teams coordinator Josh Zidenberg has spent the first week of practice accessing Jarrell’s talents and has been pleased with what he’s seen.
“The one thing he is, he’s a big, strong kid that can run, which is the first criteria for a lot of the special team units,” Zidenberg said. “He’s more than willing and he seems to be excited about the change. I’m excited to see, especially now that we’re getting the shells and pads on, how he’ll do with all those different elements because he should be somebody, from a physical standpoint and stature, that should be a really good specialist for us.”
Regardless of where he plays, Jarrell is ecstatic about the opportunity this fall.
“I would love to get on the field and contribute,” he said. “Special teams will definitely be a part of that. I told the coaches anything I can do to help the team win football games I’m willing to do that.”