Connor Reilly just wanted to play a sport.
Lost in the shuffle of a coaching transition before the 2010 football season, Reilly wasn’t getting the opportunity he wanted to play quarterback at Temple. Reilly was recruited as a pocket passer, but in the run-heavy offense installed by coach Steve Addazio in Reilly’s freshman year, Reilly didn’t fit in.
He took a redshirt his freshman season. After Reilly’s sophomore year, in which he played in only three games as the fourth-string quarterback, he finally started to reconsider his options.
Making a meaningful contribution to a team in any sport, Reilly reasoned, takes precedence over trying to make it as a starter in an offense that usually passes the ball less than 10 times per game.
Reilly, a First Team All-District catcher at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va., decided to walk on to the baseball team before the 2012 season. Now the only two-sport male athlete at Temple, Reilly finds himself back in the mix of things at quarterback for the football team that is again under new leadership, while still balancing a spot in the lineup for the baseball team.
However, football could soon become a bigger commitment for Reilly. The quaterback has been given a chance to start by the team’s new coach who just wants a quarterback to make plays, be it with his feet or his arm.
At the end of spring practice last week, coach Matt Rhule said Reilly was the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, ahead of redshirt-senior Chris Coyer and senior Clinton “Juice” Granger, who both received time as starter last season.
“[Reilly is] completing the ball and moving the offense,” Rhule said. “He makes a big play everyday. That’s what you’re looking for, someone who completes balls and moves the offense, for what we’re trying to do. He has by no means won the job, but after the first scrimmage and the first six days, he’s running with the ones right now.”
Rhule accepted the job of head coach of the football team after spending a year with the then-Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Rhule has brought many things back with him from the NFL, including an expectation of accountability from his players and an emphasis on playmaking. But most tangibly, he has installed a throw-heavy offense that he said is modeled after the schemes of most of the professional teams he coached against.
Rhule calls the new offense the “pro-spread,” but was quick to add that it’s not as official as it sounds. He said he thinks the name is “corny.”
“It’s a pro-style passing game,” Rhule said. “It’s everything we did in New York. It’s what most NFL teams do. It’s a traditional style throwing game with some spread principles. We try to merge the two so things look more spread than others, but you have to throw the football to make it work.”
The pro-spread is a departure from the zone-read offense implemented under Addazio. In that system, the team ran the ball on average 42 times per game. Quarterbacks like Coyer and Granger were relied on more as a third running back than a passer. Last season, Coyer ran the ball 111 times in nine games and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher.
Reilly, who has an arm that has given him success as an outfielder on the baseball team but has never developed the speed to be a mobile quarterback, didn’t stand a chance to compete for a job in Addazio’s offense.
“I was kind of an afterthought,” Reilly said. “I was just a scout quarterback. I was in the back of the mind. The type of offense that we ran in the past two years wasn’t my bread and butter, while [the pro-spread] is right up my alley.”
“He just didn’t fit what they were doing,” Rhule said. “He was recruited to come into one offense, but sometimes that happens in coaching turnovers. You come into one offense, and they bring in another offense and it’s not a great fit.”
Reilly said he has to work on his footwork – he’s still slow – but that his arm strength has gone a long way to propel him to the No. 1 spot in Rhule’s new offense. During the two-minute drill on April 5, Reilly made multiple long touchdown passes, not exactly a typical sight for a Temple football practice during the past couple of seasons.
“Arm strength helps with making all the throws,” Rhule said. “He can make all the throws, but it’s about anticipation and accuracy. So many throws are under 15 yards, so you don’t need a great arm for that. You just have to have the ability to make the throw, throw it on time and be accurate. That’s something that all of our quarterbacks have to develop.”
When asked to describe a typical day for him during the spring semester, Reilly laid out a schedule that most student-athletes could probably sympathize with, but not necessarily match.
Reilly wakes up on Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and is at Edberg-Olson Hall with the football team until noon. He lifts, receives treatment, watches film and studies the new offense. He has class at 2 p.m. and baseball practice from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. When the baseball team has games, Reilly has to skip his night class.
Reilly doesn’t make it to every baseball game. He has played in 11 of the team’s 27 games and is batting .222. He said he’s “focusing on football right now.”
After practice on April 5, Reilly said he would stay at Edberg-Olson to look at film and work on his drop-backs. Reilly wouldn’t be able to play in the baseball team’s home game against La Salle that night. He had a prior commitment.
“I have a test in my class today, so I can’t go,” Reilly said.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.
CORRECTION: A version of this article that appeared in print on Tuesday, April 9 misidentified the name of the town where Connor Reilly went to high school. W.T. Woodson High School is in Fairfax, Va., not Fort Polk, La.