One of Mel Tucker's biggest tasks in the coming month will be deciding who will be under center for the Spartans when they take on Rutgers at home Oct. 24.
Between redshirt junior Rocky Lombardi, sophomore Theo Day and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne, there seem to be three quarterbacks in the running. It's possible that we could see all three in game action at some point this season, but who will ultimately be named the starter?
Lombardi has the most experience out of the three. During his freshman campaign in 2018, he started three games, compiling a 2-1 record. His best game that year came against Purdue in his first career start, where he threw for 318 yards on 26-46 passing with two touchdowns. Last season, backing up a healthy Brian Lewerke, Lombardi didn't see the field much. He finished the year 7-21 passing for 74 yards, including two interceptions.
To have a chance to start consistently has been something Lombardi has been working towards ever since he set foot on campus. He knows he's good enough, and he's not lacking any confidence.
"I've always felt like I've been good enough to play at this level," Lombardi said. "I still feel like that obviously ... I've been preparing for this for a long time and I even got some playing time in the last couple years. It's finally starting to come together."
The years of preparation and hard work have gotten Lombardi to the point where he is ready to apply what he has learned to game action on the football field. The starting experience and learning from Lewerke, who threw for over 8,000 yards at Michigan State, have helped mold him into a more complete quarterback.
"For me now, it's more about doing," Lombardi said. "I've gotten to the point where I don't really have to think as much out there. I can go through, I've got a couple things in my head, and then boom I'm just playing. You just gotta go out there and ball. It's really not about overthinking things or anything like that."
Senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons and Lombardi came in together at MSU. Simmons has seen the quarterback's growth firsthand, and has no doubts in Lombardi's ability to take the next step this year.
"I've always been a Rocky Lombardi fan since we stepped foot on campus," Simmons said. "I've always rooted for Rocky, he's always been a guy that people listen to when he spoke. He's always been a guy that's done everything right; showed up to lifts on time, worked his butt off."
Simmons acknowledged the fact that it would have been difficult for Lombardi to overtake Lewerke as the starter the past two seasons, but the door is wide open now. Lombardi has the respect from his teammates and a stronger presence as a leader in the locker room, which should help translate to success on the field.
"I think Rocky showed great leadership qualities being that backup," Simmons said. "Holding Brian accountable, holding his receivers, holding everybody accountable."
The Spartans didn't have a traditional spring or fall camp in 2020, but Lombardi still thinks he has grown as a quarterback. Over the next month, he will try to show the new coaching regime he is capable of being the next signal caller for MSU.
"I feel like I've grown a lot with experience," Lombardi said. "It's not really so much on-field experience, but to learn that playbook over quarantine and really study that film. I feel like I've gotten a lot more comfortable with who I am as a player and learning to use my strengths to my advantage ... it's been a long time to get on the field, but I've never felt better."
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