Why Jake Retzlaff and his teammates are saying BYU’s quarterback battle won’t divide the team

BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff throws against Oklahoma, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Provo, Utah.
BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff throws against Oklahoma, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Provo, Utah. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who would go on to become a coach at USC and other distinguished places, used to say that having a starting quarterback battle coming out of spring ball means you really don’t have a starting quarterback at all.

“I think the key is seeing the type of character you have in both quarterbacks that are competing, the way they handle it. You can see they are working together. They talk often, and they are good friends.”

BYU coach Kalani Sitake

His premise was that guys who deserve to be the starter emerge sooner than later, and erase any doubts that they are the man.

Current BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff would beg to differ.

After the Cougars’ last spring practice on March 30, Retzlaff told the Deseret News that head coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick “can’t go wrong” whether they pick himself or Baylor and USF transfer Gerry Bohanon to be the starter when the Cougars open the season Aug. 31 against Southern Illinois.

“We are both determined to make it the hardest decision that A Rod (Roderick) has ever had to make,” Retzlaff said. “Hopefully Gerry and I play so well through the summer and in fall camp that coaches have a really hard decision. I will just focus on myself and my development and getting the team ready to play its best.”

Several insiders who observed spring camp and the three closed scrimmages have said that Retzlaff seemed to have a better grasp of the offense and made decisions more quickly, while Bohanon displayed a slightly stronger arm and more escapability in the pocket.

Roderick seemed to acknowledge that when he was asked about the two quarterbacks’ strengths.

“They are actually more similar than they are different. They are both athletic. They both can make the throws that we need them to make in this offense, and they are both really smart,” Roderick said. “Gerry has a little more experience overall. Jake has the advantage of knowing our offense a little better than Gerry does. So it has been a really good battle.”

Roderick said he wants Bohanon to work on getting “more comfortable” with the language of the offense to the point that he doesn’t have to think as much about it as plays are signaled in and can just go play.

“In Jake’s case, it is just continuing to take great care of the ball. Jake had zero interceptions the whole spring. I think that’s the first time I have ever had a quarterback go 15 practices without throwing an interception,” Roderick said. “He made it through (15 practices/scrimmages) without a pick. And that was a big deal, because last year he had some critical turnovers. So the goal of spring was to eliminate those.

“And he did a good job of that.”

Since spring camp ended, Max Hall, Riley Nelson and other former BYU quarterbacks have suggested that it is optimal for programs to name a starter out of spring camp so teammates can rally behind QB1 and offseason, player-run practices can be held without so much uncertainty in the area.

Sometimes, quarterback derbies have a way of dividing locker rooms, but Sitake said March 30 he isn’t worried about that with this team, due to its maturity. He said Bohanon and Retzlaff have “set the tone” with their friendship and way of encouraging each other.

“I think the key is seeing the type of character you have in both quarterbacks that are competing, the way they handle it. You can see they are working together. They talk often, and they are good friends,” Sitake said. “They are setting the example for the rest of the team. They have seen it. I mean, we have best friends fighting for starting spots, so that is OK.”

Receiver-turned-tight end Keanu Hill described the battle as “competitive” but said it is not heated.

“Both can make crazy throws,” Hill said. “Even though Gerry just came in this spring, he has shown his development. There are certain aspects he can work on, but he is coming in and being very competitive.”

An important factor to remember as coaches mull over the decision: Bohanon has one season of eligibility remaining, while Retzlaff has two, but will graduate at this time next year.

Retzlaff is an excellent student, carrying a 3.6 grade point average and on track to earn his degree in exercise and wellness.

The junior college transfer said he has put on eight pounds since the 2023 season ended.

“I have just tried to put lean muscle on and be able to still run with it. That’s the big thing,” Retzlaff said. “You don’t want to get too big too fast. You want to stay strong and fast and agile and stuff like that. So yeah, I have been able to do that pretty well this offseason.”

Retzlaff said he doesn’t expect to be handed the starting spot just because he started the last four games of last season, all losses. He does take pride in the fact that he played well in the season-ending loss at Oklahoma State, and relishes the drive at the end of regulation that resulted in a Will Ferrin field goal and forced overtime.

“Just staying process-oriented and just not worrying about things you can’t control is the simple way to put it,” he said of his positive attitude this spring. “What you can’t control is not up to you, so just focus on what you can control and that is going out there and playing ball every day and having a blast with your teammates. This spring has been a lot of fun, because we both have that mindset.”

Retzlaff said when the semester ends he will head home to Southern California for a couple weeks and work out with former BYU quarterback John Beck and Beck’s 3DQB Academy. Then he will return to Provo and continue to build chemistry with an offensive unit that is mostly the same one he finished the 2023 season with.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think a lot of guys are sitting around worrying about Gerry and I,” he said. “I mean, the quarterback battle is important, but there is competition in so many other places in this building that guys are focusing on their competition. They aren’t worried about the coaches’ decisions because they have enough hard decisions for themselves to make.

“The guys just know that the coaches are going to do right by us and the players and we will just be grateful for the situation that we are in,” Retzlaff concluded.

BYU quarterback Gerry Bohanon (3) receives the ball during a practice on the SAB outdoor practice fields at the start of spring camp in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News