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Will WVU hopes be hitched to Millard?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Between now and the start of the football season, Paul Millard will take a step that these days seems almost a prerequisite to becoming a top-flight quarterback in the Big 12.

He's getting married.

OK, so maybe his May 12 nuptials back home in Texas aren't with an eye on football success. Nor is it a necessary step, given the success of unweds like Geno Smith.

Still, it's hard to argue with the success of those who recently have acted similarly:

Oklahoma's Landry Jones.

Kansas State's Collin Klein.

Baylor's Nick Florence.

And Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden.

Not bad company, huh? The top two passers in the Big 12 last year (Florence and Jones), the top two from the year before (Weeden and Florence) and a Heisman Trophy finalist (Klein). All played as married men.

Again, though, Millard isn't tying the knot with football in mind.

"When you know, you know,'' Millard said of his high school girlfriend, Laura, who is now in school at WVU. "It wasn't a hard decision.''

There is, of course, just one catch to this married-man-advantage where Millard is concerned. He hasn't even won the job as West Virginia's starter.

As the Mountaineers wrap up the first part of spring drills with today's practice - they will be excused for spring break and not return until April 2 - Millard, a junior, and Ford Childress, a redshirt freshman, are waging a two-man battle for the upper hand in the race to replace Smith, the school's all-time passing leader. Chavas Rawlins, a true freshman who enrolled in January, is also in the mix, but at least through the spring he's likely just to be getting his bearings straight.

So far, it's hard to imagine that either has separated himself in the closed-door practices. A lot of that has to do with circumstances, not ability.

"It's a process. You don't all of a sudden overnight get good at this offense,'' Millard said. "It takes constant repetition. And with new quarterbacks, new receivers, new offensive linemen stepping in, it's a process. We're just trying to get better.''

Millard, though, clearly has the advantage where knowledge and experience are concerned. Practically since the day he stepped onto campus two years ago and proved only that he could catch a shotgun snap, he's been Smith's backup. Coach Dana Holgorsen really had little choice given that in 2011 Millard was the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster and in 2012 he was joined only by the relatively raw Childress, who hadn't even become a full-time quarterback in high school until he was a junior.

To say that Millard arrived at WVU with a bit of a low profile might be an understatement. Despite some gaudy high school passing numbers - nearly 4,500 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior at Flower Mound High School near Dallas - his most persistent recruiter was Stephen F. Austin. He wound up in Morgantown because Holgorsen hired SFA's offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson.

The knocks on Millard? Well, they were pretty common threads that tend to separate the highly recruited and the under-recruited - size and arm strength.

"In high school, a lot of recruiters and a lot of coaches told me I didn't have it,'' Millard said. "I always want to prove them wrong. And I think some of the same things are happening now. I like being the underdog.

"You just let the naysayers go away and you go out and play your game.''

Line up Millard and Childress side by side and you see both what recruiters like in a quarterback and what they found lacking in Millard. He stretches to stand 6-foot-2 and he's now pretty much the same weight - 219 pounds - he was when he arrived, although it is undoubtedly a different kind of weight after two years of college conditioning.

Childress? He's a 6-5, 234-pound specimen whose dad, Ray, was an all-pro defensive lineman.

That doesn't mean he's a better quarterback or ever will be. But it's what college coaches salivate over and what Millard isn't.

As for the arm strength, well, Millard admits he doesn't have a cannon. But in Holgorsen's precision offense, does he need one?

"I think, coming out of high school, I had a decently strong arm. Some people didn't [think that],'' Millard said. "But how many times in a game do you make a 75-yard throw? Probably none. It's just making all those throws on the field, being accurate with the ball. And timing is everything.''

Take the deep out-cut pattern, for example.

"That's what they show at the [NFL] Combine all the time. That's what they want to see guys make,'' Millard said. "And I can make those throws. I have confidence.''

Confidence, in fact, is actually perhaps one of Millard's shortcomings - not the lack of it, but too much. He didn't play much in those two years as Smith's backup - tiny stretches in 11 games, enough to throw just 34 passes - but when he did he was fearless. He rather famously tossed a fourth-down touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey when Smith had to leave last year's game at Oklahoma State because his helmet came off, but he also threw three interceptions in his brief playing time over two years.

With the lone exception of that one play in Stillwater, however, none of Millard's passes have been thrown with a game still in the balance. So it's hard to know what he will do under pressure.

If he does win the job, though, he'll have pretty good predecessors as a married quarterback in the Big 12.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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