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Future of Rutgers Football 2024: Quarterbacks

Junior quarterback Gavin Wimsatt is in line to start at quarterback for the Rutgers football team in 2024, but he will face pressure from incoming transfer and sophomore quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis. – Photo by Evan Leong

It is officially springtime, and spring training for the Rutgers football team is underway. In the first edition of Future of Rutgers Football, The Daily Targum previews the 2024 quarterback room.

This spring could mean potential new beginnings for the Rutgers football team at the quarterback position, as head coach Greg Schiano and his staff brought in a transfer expected to compete for the Scarlet Knights' starting job at the helm of the offense.

Sophomore quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis chose to transfer to Rutgers from Minnesota and reunited with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who coached him as a Golden Gopher.

In his first full year as a starter in 2023, Kaliakmanis threw for 1,838 yards, with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. While his numbers were not overly gaudy, he played in a relatively conservative Minnesota offense and was not tasked with putting the team on his back on a Gopher squad that qualified for a bowl game. He did have some strong performances down the stretch, throwing for a season-high 292 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-30 loss to Purdue.

Kaliakmanis will likely be the most accurate passer in the Knights quarterback room, and give Ciarrocca the option of a player he has experience coaching. While he does not have the same athletic abilities as some of the other quarterbacks at Rutgers, evidenced by his 94 rushing yards in 2023, he has shown a tendency to scramble when the pocket collapses smartly.

While he does not have a high ceiling, Kaliakmanis is a solid option with plenty of starting experience in the Big Ten — an attribute that cannot be underestimated.

His main competitor in the quarterback battle this spring and summer will be the incumbent starter, junior quarterback Gavin Wimsatt.

Wimsatt has the advantage of having led the Knights to their first winning season in nine years, starting all 13 games. He threw for 1,735 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in Ciarrocca’s run-first offense. Wimsatt also finished second in rushing with 497 yards and a team-leading 11 rushing touchdowns. He is always a threat to run the ball as his elite straight-line speed to outrun defenders and his strong frame make him a weapon around the goal line, which was evident in this year's Pinstripe Bowl.

The main reason Wimsatt battles Kaliakmanis for starting quarterback is due to Wimsatt’s accuracy issues. His 47.8 percent completion rate ranked as the lowest in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and his completion percentage dipped below 50 percent in nine of Rutgers’ 13 games.

Oftentimes, Wimsatt’s inconsistency would flutter within games where he would hit his targets dead-on for one drive, only for him to sail multiple throws on the next drive. If he wants to win the starting job, he must improve his accuracy and consistency.

Wimsatt will also have to improve on some of his decision-making when throwing the ball for the Knights as well, as he would struggle with turnovers in many games that Rutgers lost. Though he had his share of struggles over the season, Wimsatt’s starting experience and excellent athleticism at the quarterback position could give him an edge in retaining his spot as the Knights' lead signal-caller to begin the year.

Knowing Schiano, this quarterback battle will most likely not be settled until the summer as Rutgers prepares for its season opener against Howard.

Other quarterbacks on the roster include freshman AJ Surace out of Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. One of the crown jewels of the Knights’ 2024 recruiting class, Surace features a smart and accurate passer with underrated athleticism. In his senior season for the Irish, he threw for 1,839 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 975 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"AJ, he's a tremendous football player," Schiano said during December’s National Signing Day. "It's in his blood. His dad is a long-time head coach at Princeton and in the National Football League before that and just a great family of educators."

Since Wimsatt and Kaliakmanis will be battling for the starting job, Surace will likely not see much action on the field this year and will be a redshirt candidate. Giving him a year to adjust and develop to the collegiate level without the pressure of performing in a game could be the best thing for his development since many have hailed Surace as Rutgers’ quarterback of the future.

The fourth quarterback on the roster is another returning player in redshirt freshman Ajani Sheppard, who only appeared in one game as a true freshman in 2023. With the arrival of Kaliakmanis and Surace, it does not appear that Sheppard will have a large role in the Knights’ offense, but due to his arm strength and athleticism, he could always be an intriguing option.

After a resurgent season, Rutgers is looking to take another step forward in the program’s rebuild. Whoever wins the starting job at the helm will be trusted to make the right decision and lead an effective unit to make it back to a bowl game.

For more updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on X.

To view more of Alec Crouthamel's work, follow @aleccr12 on X.

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