A nice problem to have
Tanner Mordecai, Preston Stone give SMU coaching staff satisfying tough choice
Posted on 08/16/2022 by PonyFans.com
After a record-setting 2021 season, head coach Rhett Lashlee announced that Tanner Mordecai will open the 2022 season as the starting SMU quarterback (photo by SMU athletics).
“I’ve said it many a time. We’re just excited to have both of those guys.”

So said SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee early in the Mustangs’ fall camp when he was asked about the battle for the team’s starting quarterback job, a few days before he announced Tanner Mordecai would open the season as the starter.

When a new coaching staff takes over a team, it often is because that team had not been winning enough … a result, sometimes, of inadequate quarterback play. Lashlee, on the other hand, took over a team with a returning starting quarterback in Mordecai, who added his name to the program’s record book in his first season at SMU, and a highly touted backup in Preston Stone … and that was before he and his staff added Kevin Jennings, the Mustangs’ freshman who led South Oak Cliff to the state championship.

“Tanner’s got tons of experience — we all know what he brings to the table,” Lashlee said, “and I think Preston just continues to get better.”

Mordecai and Stone have nimbly walked that line between two players who desperately want the same job and two teammates who put team goals ahead of their own individual ones.

SMU quarterbacks coach Jonathan Brewer said that part of what has made Mordecai and Stone as successful as they are is their competitiveness … but that they also understand that the name across the front of their jerseys is more important than the one on the back.

“They’re two extreme competitors,” Brewer said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re out there with the ones or the twos — it doesn’t matter. You could throw them out there with the threes, and they’re trying to win everything they do. That’s what I appreciate with them: it doesn’t matter. Whoever we throw them in with, they’re going and they’re cheering for their other guy. That’s the biggest thing I’ve seen: it’s that they get excited for each other when (the other is) in. Then, when Kevin (Jennings) goes in, it’s like ‘oh, my gosh’ — it’s like a little brother. They’re fired up.’

Mordecai’s 2021 season was impressive, especially considering it was his first with his new team after transferring to the Hilltop from Oklahoma. He was impesssive enough in camp that he was named a team captain before playing a single game for the Ponies, and started all 12 games. He set the SMU program record with 39 touchdown passes, tops among all American Athletic Conference passers and fifth in the NCAA; he also set the school’s single-game record with seven touchdown passes in the season opener against Abilene Christian. He completed 308 of 454 passes, good for a completion percentage of .678 — 15th in the entire NCAA. Eight times, he threw for 300 or more yards in a game, and tossed four or more touchdowns in a game give times. All told, he amassed 3,830 yards of total offense, the fourth-highest single-season total in SMU history.

Given that background, it’s remarkable that the position was up for competition at all. But Stone is no off-the-street backup. A year ago, he arrived at SMU with a pocket full of scholarship offers from some of the nation’s marquee programs, including national champion Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Florida.

Lashlee has said both will play. But while each wants to make the job his own, it really appears that they both embrace bigger goals.

“There’s only one quarterback that plays, but I think moreso than anything, I’m a football player on this team,” Stone said. “So regardless of if I’m in the game or not, it’s going to be about ‘how can I be the best teammate? How can I help my team as best as I can to go win a championship?’”

Mordecai could be forgiven if he had headed into camp with his attention focused on putting up even gaudier numbers than last year … and he did not get to where he is by ignoring areas in which he can improve. Nonetheless, he said his primary goal involves the team, not his personal stat sheet.

“I was a captain here last year, started and did some good things,” he said. “Most of those (skill position) guys (from 2021) are still here, most of the young guys that started to step up are here, and through the spring … keep building on what I’ve done and trying to work toward a championship. It’s really all I’ve been focused on.”

As he prepares to lead an offense that has replaced departed targets like Danny Gray, Grant Calcaterra and Reggie Roberson with a slew of new players, including wideouts Moochie Dixon, Beau Corrales, Teddy Knox and Jake Bailey, as well as a stable of young receivers like Roderick Daniels, Jayleen Record and Dylan Goffney, Mordecai said his team-first approach is something that he owes to his teammates, and he hopes to share.

“It’s a mindset, a mindset of how you approach everything,” Mordecai said. “If you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability, why do it at all? There’s no other way to approach a season, to approach football, than to win and win willingly, dominating the guy in front of you. That’s kind of the approach I try to bring to the guys: ‘compete with the hardest edge you can have, and dominate to win … and win big.’”

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