Sep. 2—JACKSONVILLE — Zion Webb's Jacksonville State stay spans the life of the NCAA transfer portal, which became a thing in October of 2018. He was a redshirt freshman.
He could be forgiven for considering the portal a time or two.
One Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback, Zerrick Cooper, transferred to JSU in time to pre-empt Webb's redshirt freshman season and spent three years rewriting school passing records.
Exit Cooper, and first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez attracted another ACC quarterback, Aaron McLaughlin, in time for Webb's comeback from a knee injury.
If Webb ever doubted JSU, it was never enough to leave. He turned his doubt inward.
"There were times I second-guessed myself," he said. "Talking to people over time, and just hearing my elders, they just told me to put your head down and keep working."
Webb's sixth year at JSU just might have brought about the best marriage of his skills and an offensive system.
He played all but one drive in JSU's season-opening victory over then-10th-ranked Stephen F. Austin in Saturday's FCS Kickoff game in Montgomery, settling down after two early turnovers to account for 219 total yards and rush for a career-first three touchdowns.
The more plays he and JSU's pace offense ran at SFA's increasingly gassed defense, the more downhill he and JSU ran.
The moment just might've finally found the guy once tabbed as JSU's next Eli Jenkins.
"It's an amazing system," Webb said of Rodriguez's pace spread offense. "There's always a check to a check. You can always find an open person. You can always find an open gap.
"This offense, for me, is just eye-opening, just seeing all of the opportunities it gives me in just one play."
Rodriguez rattled off quarterbacks who have run his system through the years at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona and sees elements with Webb.
"Pat White, Denard Robinson, Shawn King and Woody Dantzler and Rasheed Marshall and Khalil Tate, they were all really good players," Rodriguez said. "They were all unique in their own way.
"Pat White might've been the most explosive runner, but Denard's a good runner. Shaun King was the most accurate passer I've ever coached, but Khalil Tate was pretty accurate. Zion has some traits that all of those guys have."
Rodriguez never mentions Webb without mentioning McLaughlin and true freshman Te'Sean Smoot. McLaughlin led a drive against SFA, and the coach insists all three quarterbacks will prepare for the possibility of game action each week.
Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.