Like most big college football fans, East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew watched on TV six weeks ago as Alabama rallied past Georgia to win another national title, with true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa coming off the bench in relief of sophomore starter Jalen Hurts to spark the second-half comeback.
On Friday, Minshew will make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Brandon, Miss., to Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit with the Crimson Tide to explore a chance to join the most stacked quarterback depth chart in college football as a graduate transfer. Minshew, who threw for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions during East Carolina’s 3–9 campaign last fall, told SI that the idea of being part of the Alabama program—and competing against those two QBs—was probably the furthest thought from his mind as the national championship game played out.
The 6'1", 220-pound Minshew graduated from ECU in December with a degree in communications and sent out his release to several schools throughout the South. Alabama was the first to respond, as newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Locksley reached out to convey the Tide’s interest.
“I was definitely surprised,” Minshew says. “I wasn’t expecting that but I’m really excited about the opportunity. I want to get into coaching after my playing career is done. Being around that atmosphere and to be around Coach Saban would be such an invaluable experience.”
Minshew said a big part of the Tide’s pitch to him is the benefits the program could offer him as an aspiring coach. He knows it’d be an uphill climb to overtake the strong-armed Tagovailoa, the offensive MVP of the national title game, and Hurts, the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. “I want to be part of something special,” he says. “I’m a competitor. I’d like to get into that mix and I’ll take my chances.” Whether he got into the lineup or not, he said wherever he goes, “I’m going to be the best teammate I can be.”
For now, Alabama is his only offer, but two other SEC schools are also in the mix. Tennessee reached out to him last week, and earlier this week he heard from Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who recruited him in high school when Lindsey was the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss.
Minshew says Tennessee is very intriguing, especially because the Vols’ QB picture is pretty murky as Jeremy Pruitt and his new staff continue to get settled: “We’ve been talking a lot. They want me to compete for the job in the spring.”
Because Tennessee has mini-terms within its semesters, Minshew would be able to enroll this spring, compete in spring ball and get around his new teammates and coaches, which would be a big plus in his eyes.
He isn’t the only QB the Volunteers have their eye on: Former Stanford starter Keller Chryst is expected to take a visit to Knoxville over the weekend. Chryst isn’t expected to graduate until June, and Minshew said the Vols staff has told him they haven’t given out any offers.
“If it were to work out [at Tennessee], I’d be in school in there next Thursday,” he says. “I feel like I fit what they do.”
Lindsey told Minshew he was going to take his film to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. “[Lindsey] said that if it were up to him, I’m good there,” Minshew says.
The frenzy of SEC interest represents quite a change from Minshew’s first time through the recruiting process. As a junior in high school, Minshew had offers from Akron, UAB and Troy, but by signing day they all were gone for a variety of reasons, and he ended up walking on at Troy, then changing course and signing with Northwest Mississippi Community College. ECU offered him after he led Northwest Mississippi to a junior college national championship in 2015.
As for what his new team will be getting? “I’m a leader,” Minshew says. “I was a team captain in my second year at East Carolina. On the field, I feel like I’m accurate and I make good decisions. Being able to prepare mentally for the games is something I really take pride in.”