Each week heading into the fall football season for MSU, The State News will be taking a look into each position group on Mel Tucker’s roster as the Spartans prepare for their third season under the Tucker regime. In this edition, Sam Sklar dives into who could potentially backup starting quarterback Payton Thorne.
One year ago, all eyes were glued to the quarterback room, and for good reason.
Michigan State was locked set for a tight battle for the starting quarterback job with Payton Thorne and Anthony Russo as the two competitors. Thorne, a redshirt sophomore at the time, brought mobility and accuracy, while Russo, a graduate student, brought experience and a strong arm from his days at Temple.
Thorne ultimately won the job, a decision that, in hindsight, was an excellent one, with no knock to Russo. Thorne was brilliant in 2021, leading the Spartans to 11 wins and breaking MSU’s single-season passing touchdown record with 27, surpassing Kirk Cousins’ 25 in 2011.
He is the no-doubt starting quarterback next fall and a leader of the team. The question for Thorne lies in what his next step looks like in his second year as a full-time starter.
This past spring, Thorne appeared to be making strides as a leader in addition to his on-field skills. In the limited practice windows and media availability, he was vocal with his teammates and spoke much more maturely than before. He has yet to turn 21 years old, providing room to establish himself as a dominant quarterback.
Where things get interesting in the quarterback room is the battle for the second-string position behind Thorne. Thorne is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, leaving for a wide-open competition behind him. Russo was handed that role by default last season and appeared twice in garbage time of blowout games.
The backup role is important, and not just as a source of mentorship. Lack of quarterback depth can derail seasons, or it can keep them afloat. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said in March that MSU was lucky it never had to test its quarterback depth.
“We were blessed last year,” Johnson said. “Generally, you don’t get through the season with just one quarterback and we really were. I’m praying for that to happen again this year, but with those other guys, I want them to press Payton and I need to get them ready so we have that depth and we have that ability to continue on.”
Head coach Mel Tucker likes to keep any bits of information locked within the grounds of the practice facility, refusing to name a backup quarterback following spring practices. The quarterback reps in MSU’s open practice were fairly even, too.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the options MSU has to backup Thorne in 2022:
A redshirt sophomore, Kim, along with Andrew Schorfhaar, is the longest-tenured quarterback in the program outside of Thorne. That’s an advantage for Kim, who likely is the frontrunner for the backup job.
Kim arrived in 2020 as a three-star recruit from Virginia, with Michigan State and Virginia Tech as his only power five offers. In his career at Westfield High School, he threw for a dynamite 6,756 passing yards and 87 touchdown passes while also rushing for 1,056 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Kim has a thin frame but a solid arm, too. He utilized 2020 as a redshirt season and 2021 as a season behind Thorne and Russo. Depending on his development, he may be primed to step into game action if necessary.
“I thought Noah Kim had a really, really solid spring,” Thorne said following Michigan State’s final spring practice. “It was fun playing with him and talking with him on certain stuff. He was very crisp the whole spring. He didn’t really have an off day.”
Fay is the main challenger to Kim after taking a redshirt season in 2021.
Also a three-star recruit, Fay’s high school stats in Fort Worth, Texas, aren’t as enticing as Kim’s. Yet, schools saw him as a signal-caller with strong potential. Fay chose Michigan State over offers from Boise State, Colorado, Houston, Ole Miss, Pitt, and others.
Given the limited practice snaps in front of the public or media, it’s been difficult to get a gauge on Fay’s progress outside of words from coaches and other players. From that sense, it appears Fay is on track with the team’s expectations.
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“Hamp Fay is like 300% better than he was when he got here a year ago,” Johnson said at the beginning of the spring.
“Hamp did a good job,” Thorne said at the end of spring ball. “He’s coming along. He’s doing things that the coach wants to see.” [2:17]
The dark horse of the three main competitors, Houser is a true freshman who may have the ability to back up Thorne as soon as this season.
A four-star recruit who flipped his commitment from Boise State to Michigan State, Houser appears, at least for now, to be the quarterback of the future whenever the Thorne era comes to an end.
Before transferring to St. John’s Bosco in southern California, Houser was teammates in Nevada with fellow true freshman wide receiver Geremie Bernard. Bernard, like Houser, also was not planning on attending MSU until coaching changes at Washington made him consider a reunion with Houser.
If Houser is to win the job, it likely will boil down to his raw talent over Kim and Fay. Improving the mental aspect of football is one of the most difficult tasks in the sport, and lofty expectations for strong mental and emotional maturity this fall may be unrealistic. However, Houser was an early enrollee in January, giving him a headstart in his development.
If Houser doesn’t win the job, don’t be surprised to see him redshirt in order to preserve an extra year of eligibility.
Joining Kim as a redshirt sophomore, this will be Schorfhaar’s third year in East Lansing.
A DeWitt native and son of Dr. Andrew Schorfhaar, one of the team’s physicians, Schorfhaar has a nice story. He was the all-state honorable mention his senior year at DeWitt high school, passing and rushing for over 1,000 yards.
However, significant strides would need to be made for Schorfhaar to take the second-string job over Kim, Fay, and Houser.
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