Martin Ukpai named starter for season

Redshirt sophomore Martin Ukpai will be under center as the starting quarterback when the football team opens its 2010 season against the Miami Hurricanes Sept. 2.

Head coach Joe Taylor made the decision after Ukpai’s impressive showing during spring practices and scrimmages.

Taylor has said he likes having three viable prospects at the quarterback position throughout spring practices, and has a short list of tangibles and intangibles that he demands from his starting quarterback.

“Leadership is important and intelligence is important,” Taylor said. “The quarterback has to have a strong arm and he’s got to have athleticism if the play breaks down. When it’s all said and done, it comes down to who is the most effective quarterback.”

Taylor said that Ukpai is capable of doing all of the above, and filling the void of departed quarterback Curtis Pulley, who had team highs in touchdown passes with 12, and rushing yards with 881 last season.

Ukpai will have the chance to craft his own legacy as he leads the Rattlers this fall. He said he feels comfortable as the play caller because the playbook is tailored to his playing style.

“Coach always tells me that the main part of the offense is driving the ball and getting points on the board,” said Ukpai of Plantation, Fla. “The offensive scheme emphasizes getting the ball out quickly, and if you can’t then you have a chance to scramble, and I can scramble pretty well.”

The work does not stop for Ukpai now that he is the starter. He said he wants to improve his decision-making and tighten his throwing motion to further his development on the field.

“I’m working on my arm and my accuracy,” Ukpai said. “I’m pretty lazy with the ball drop, and I’m trying to work on keeping my elbow up and delivering solid passes I throw the ball.”
Ukpai saw action in two games last season, and he started at the Florida Classic in the 42-6 victory over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

He completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 151 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown.

The other two quarterback prospects are still expected to contribute to the Rattlers’ success next season. Redshirt senior Eddie Battle and true freshman Austin Trainor, a Tallahasse native, both said they could give the coaching staff a different look at the position.

“I feel as though my maturity level is different,” Battle said. “I think that the playing experience I have makes a difference in our level of play. The playbook works for me because I see myself as a good decision maker, and I don’t mind taking the five-yard gain over and over until the big play comes.”

Battle played six games last season in which he completed 16 passes for 94 yards and three interceptions. He also ran for 40 yards last season.

Trainor has yet to compete in a colligate game. He said he’s already grasped the playbook, and more importantly, he is beginning to be looked at as a leader by his peers.

“I know the playbook backwards and forwards,” Trainor said. “The team responds to me well; I just need to get more time with them.”

The Rattlers’ season opener will be on the road at Miami’s Land Shark Stadium.