Barron, quarterbacks eye big leap for Weber State after spring intro
OGDEN — One of the largest underlying currents of Weber State’s spring football season five months ago was how long it had been since any of the Wildcat quarterbacks had played a good chunk of meaningful snaps in a real game.
Before the season, the only WSU quarterback with substantial Division I game experience, would-be junior Kaden Jenks (146 career pass attempts, 47 rush attempts) left the team in what was termed a medical retirement after battling multiple injuries.
Who was left included junior Randall Johnson, who threw all of two garbage-time passes at Middle Tennessee State in 2019 as the totality of his Division I resume before transferring to Weber State seemingly with a leg up on being the starter. Before that, he threw 556 passes in two good junior college seasons at Reedley College, the last of which came on Nov. 17, 2018.
Johnson had a leg up because freshman Bronson Barron, who returned from his mission in 2020, had never played college football and had gone even longer since throwing a pass in a game: Nov. 3, 2017.
Sophomore Kylan Weisser had appeared in six games in 2019 and had thrown two career passes, with his last bulk of in-game reps coming in 2017 in high school, and sophomore Teryn Berry had yet to take the field at WSU prior to the spring season.
“We had this conversation in February before the first game and I asked them, ‘when’s the last time any of you have actually played in a real football game?'” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Hammer said after a recent fall practice. “It was a long time for all of them.”
That’s why everyone in the program is upbeat about quarterbacks and the offense heading into the fall season, which begins Sept. 2 at Utah. Barron played five of the six games (72 of 130 for 1,071 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions, 61 rushing yards) and Johnson appeared in three games (13 of 21 for 170 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 81 rushing yards).
Those two lead the group along with Weisser, junior college transfer Chayce Akaka and true freshman Creyton Cooper. Berry left the team following the spring season in which he completed 1 of 2 passes for 9 yards.
“That spring season was huge, as far as development for me. Getting six games of experience, you can’t emulate a game in any way,” Barron said. “It was big just being able to understand college football, honestly, and get the opportunity to play with these guys.”
Barron burst onto the scene in the opener at Idaho State, throwing 17 of 27 for 312 yards and four touchdowns, completing four passes of 38 yards or longer. It was the most explosive passing game at Weber State since 2017.
But in the next game against UC Davis, Barron broke his left wrist, which he kept concealed until after the game and, after missing a start against Northern Arizona — which saw Johnson complete a 50-yard Hail Mary to Justin Malone as time expired for the win — Barron returned but with a cast on his left wrist and forearm.
“The best thing is to compete in a game. So to do that, in the 4 1/2 games he played with his wrist deal, it was a challenge for him because he wasn’t ever really healthy after the second game. He has a cast on, trying to play,” Hammer said. “As hard as that was, how he finished the season and then comes through the summer, he can watch himself and see what he needs to do and learn from that, it’s a big deal because he’s a smart, intelligent kid. He prepares really well and preparation breeds confidence. He’s done a good job preparing and is pretty confident.”
That’s where the excitement comes in for the Wildcats. Coaches and players saw Barron’s talent was more than able to meet the challenge of winning FCS football games. So now, with full health and a lead-in of experience to the fall, plus with pass-catching targets Devon Cooley, Randal Grimes and Jordan Allen joining the fray, things are looking positive, at least, that the passing game can take off.
Barron’s clearly in the driver’s seat as the presumptive starter but Hammer likes the competition he sees in camp from Johnson and Weisser.
Hammer said Johnson’s growth “has been really good coming back now, he’s got so much more confidence in what he’s doing and how he sees it,” and Weisser “had a really good summer.”
“Whether you say it’s Bronson, he’s the guy, he’s the starter — he knows if he doesn’t show up and perform, the other guys want that opportunity and are working hard. I think everybody’s in a good spot, everyone knows what their role is,” he said. “There was a moment in a two-game stretch last season when four guys played quality reps. So all of them have to be prepared. You never know how it’s going to play out.”
Cooper, a freshman from Lehi, has shown his talent and is “picking things up really well,” Hammer said. Akaka, a native Hawaiian, joined the team a month before camp and “has a snappy release, a good arm, fun to be around, wants to learn.” Akaka threw 473 passes in two seasons at Chabot College in California but hasn’t played in a game in almost two years.
“I’m excited about him and the group from top to bottom,” Hammer said. “It’s good competition, they enjoy each other, and they understand what the expectation is on how to practice and prepare.”