SOUTH KINGSTOWN — For much of head coach Jim Fleming’s tenure at the University of Rhode Island, the quarterback position represented a missing piece. There was a competition every year. Nobody was able to take the reins for multiple seasons. Nobody emerged as a star.
That trend began to change in 2017 when JaJuan Lawson took over the starting job. He held onto it last season and delivered the best campaign by a URI quarterback in years, even with an injury costing him four games. Not surprisingly, his performance as the missing piece helped the Rams log their first winning season in 17 years.
With Lawson graduating, the familiar competition has ensued, but there’s more confidence this time about what it will yield. Vito Priore started the four games that Lawson missed. Redshirt sophomore Jahkari Grant knows the system. Freshman Darius Perrantes has a bright future. Transfer Alin Edouard, a one-time Syracuse commit, is an intriguing talent.
While no one is on Lawson’s level yet, their potential and the strong supporting cast around the competing signal-callers have the Rams feeling good.
Sunday’s scrimmage, the first of fall camp, showcased the promise. The quarterbacks combined for five touchdown passes and the Rams racked up 397 yards through the air while going without an interception. There were no signs of the struggles that hurt URI’s offense in a shaky spring game performance.
“They played extremely well,” Fleming said. “They managed the ball, they handled the volume of stuff we had in really well. They’re going to make it an extremely, extremely hard decision for us to make, but it’s a great problem to have.”
Priore and Perrantes both took snaps with the first and second team offense. First on the field, Priore completed 13 of 18 passes for 201 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Perrantes hit on 11 of 20 passes for 114 yards and two scores. Grant went 10-for-22 for 82 yards and a touchdown. Edouard was held out of the scrimmage for undisclosed reasons but was expected to be back in action this week.
Experience gives Priore a bit of a head start in the competition. The redshirt junior hadn’t seen any action before last season, when he suddenly emerged in fall camp as the backup to Lawson. When Lawson went down, he filled in admirably. In his first career start, he completed 76 percent of his passes – the eighth-best single-game performance in program history – and tossed four touchdowns as the Rams blasted Brown 48-0. He scuffled a little more against Maine’s powerful defense, but kept the Rams in the game as they lost 38-36. After a loss to Stony Brook, Priore was at the controls as URI beat William & Mary.
“It helps a ton,” Priore said of the experience. “The game really slows down when you’ve been out there playing against good defenses, specifically Maine. It helps a lot.”
Grant redshirted in 2017. Last year, he saw only mop-up duty and has not attempted a pass yet in his career. But with two fall camps and two rounds of spring practice under his belt, he’s in the competition.
“We feel good,” Grant said about the quarterbacks. “Just taking it day by day.”
Perrantes made the cross-country trek from California, where he starred at St. Francis High School outside Los Angeles. URI has found a handful of recruits in California the last few years – including Lawson, by way of the University of New Mexico – and Perrantes is the latest to sign on.
“I was kind of getting tired of the West Coast a little bit,” Perrantes said. “It’s nice out here. I love it.”
And the Rams are happy to have him. Perrantes is a bit undersized at 6-0, 215 pounds but brings running ability to the table. The highlight of the scrimmage was his scramble out of traffic, juke and shovel pass that went for a long gain.
“I’m pinching myself,” Fleming said. “You go out and recruit that position. It’s a tribute to [assistant coach Will Fleming] and his evaluations, finding the kid out there. He’s come in and he has a tremendously advanced maturity. He’s got good grasp of the game. He’s picked up our offense extremely well. And he obviously shows the physical skills necessary to play the game. He’s right in the mix.”
Edouard, a transfer from Texas-San Antonio, remains in the mix, as well.
Whatever happens, the Rams are confident about what their quarterbacks can do.
“You’ve got three talented guys here and everybody is just competing every day,” Priore said.