Three quarterbacks return to NC A&T football in 2023. All got some playing time in 2022. That is just one resemblance of Zach Yeager, Eli Brickhandler and Alston Hooker.
They are all redshirts – Yeager and Hooker redshirt sophomores with Brickhandler listed as a redshirt freshman. All three are just above six feet tall – Hooker and Yeager on the roster at 6-1, with Brickhandler a bit taller at 6-2. Hooker is listed at 180 pounds, Brickhandler at 195 and Yeager at 205.
They are all athletic and can make plays with their arms and their feet.
Each showed a little of what they can do in limited action last season playing in the Big South Conference behind incumbent redshirt senior starter Jalen Fowler.
NC A&T football: Starting QB spot up for grabs
The trio will be vying for the starting quarterback spot this season when the Aggies open their first year in the Colonial Athletics Association (CAA). That battle commenced in just completed spring practices and likely will carry over when they enter fall camp.
In the annual Blue and Gold spring game two weeks ago, they alternated turns under center and showed off their skills.
The Aggies will travel to Alabama-Birmingham on Thursday, August 31 to open the 2023 season. It will also be their inaugural season under new head coach Vincent Brown.
“We’re going to have open competition for all of the positions going into training camp,” Brown said. “And probably, I would say, it will be within the first week-and-a-half, ten days before the first game before we settle in as to who are going to be the starters.”
NC A&T has new offensive coordinator, scheme
Just as important to the trio is that they will be operating under a new offensive coordinator and scheme. Chris Young, who served as wide receivers coach at nearby CAA member Elon over the past four years, has taken over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Young brings a wealth of experience to the position. He was offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Colgate, from 2014 to 2018 helping lead the Raiders to FCS playoff appearances in his final two seasons.
The three QBs operated under offensive coordinator Chris Barnette last year for departed head coach Sam Washington. Barnette is now the OC at Winston-Salem State.
Each of the three said they like what Young is drawing up.
The QBs speak
“One thing I would say definitely that he preaches to us is to get the ball in our playmakers hands,” Yeager said. “Getting the ball in the best players hands and making sure they can make plays, making sure they’re comfortable, we’re comfortable.”
“Simply put,” Brickhandler said, “we’re going to throw the ball around a little more. I like that he’s open to throwing the ball around. There are a lot of new pass concepts. Take some shots downfield, stuff like that.”
“Honestly, I feel like we’re going to be very explosive this year,” Hooker said. “The guys that we’ve got coming in and things that we’re learning, the things that we’re doing with this new offensive coordinator, we’re definitely going to be explosive.”
“Using our legs a lot more, being a dual threat and being all that we can be,” Brickhandler added. “Really, just let us lead the offense. You know, he’s a playcaller, he knows what he’s doing. The results are put in our hands. Having that relationship with the offensive coordinator that’s going to let us become that next-level team – become that powerhouse that we want to be.”
“I definitely say there’s a difference,” Yeager said of schemes from last year. “But I wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference. Coach (Brown) wanted us to come in and keep us comfortable with some of the things that we do well and have us not doing what we don’t like. So, I wouldn’t say it’s a huge difference but it is a little bit of a change.”
Sizing up Chris Young
Young and the Elon offense had great success against Brown as defensive coordinator at Willliam & Mary a year ago. Elon handed 11-2 William & Mary its only regular season loss, 35-31 on Sept. 24 in Williamsburg, Va. Elon’s offense ran for 240 yards and passed for 254 yards in the win.
Young had a pair of receivers (Jackson Parham and Bryson Daughtry) at Elon that combined for over 120 receptions, over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns for the 8-4 Phoenix. That productivity perhaps had something to do with Brown bringing in Young to run the Aggies’ offense.
Both William & Mary and Elon made it to the FCS playoffs. They were two of the five teams from the tough CAA to make the 24-team playoff field.
NC A&T football: Sizing up the QBs
With Fowler out early last season battling COVID, Yeager started the opener against NC Central. The Minneapolis, Minnesota native completed 23 of 48 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown in the 28-13 loss. He threw a costly interception deep in NCCU territory late in the third quarter. His 59 rushing yards put him over 300 total yards for the game in his promising first start.
He then started game two at FCS power North Dakota State. Yeager led the Aggies to a field goal on their first possession that turned out to be their only points of the game. Fowler replaced him but he returned and surrendered a fumble and interception on consecutive early second-quarter possessions. Fowler finished out the game, a 43-3 loss.
Yeager did not play in the Aggies’ 49-20 loss at Duke.
In game four at home vs. South Carolina State, Yeager was again the starter. He took a hard hit on the shoulder on the Aggies’ second possession. The tackle resulted in a targeting call against the SC State defender and knocked Yeager from the game. He returned and threw one pass as the Aggies pulled out a 41-27 win. A week later, he played two series is a 24-13 win over Bryant. After the Bryant game he was shut down for the season with a shoulder injury.
He finished with just 27 completions in 59 attempts (45.7%) in four games. He returns as the most experienced of the three.
Brickhandler saw his first action last season in a 49-20 loss to Duke in the season’s third week. He came in for mop-up duty late and led the Aggies on two touchdown drives. The Stockton, Ca. product led a seven-play, 84-yard scoring drive capped by his 6-yard TD pass. He finished 5-of-8 for 48 yards and the TD.
He came in in relief when Yeager was injured in the first quarter against SC State. After completing one of two passes for 12 yards, he severely injured his knee and was lost for the season. Neither Yeager or Brickhandler played after the fifth game.
Brickhandler showed a good grasp of the offense and excellent ball placement in spring practice.
Hooker is the son of former A&T QB Alan Hooker and the brother of Hendon Hooker, Tennessee’s outstanding quarterback who was a 2022 Heisman Trophy candidate. The younger Hooker got in early for short stints vs. SC State and Bryant. He became the primary back-up to Fowler and got in on four games after Yeager and Brickhandler went down.
He completed 4 of 13 passes for 40 yards and ran for 34 yards on the season. Hooker may be the fastest of the three.