Ivory’s season came to an abrupt end when he broke his leg in the first half of last season’s opening game against Tennessee Martin. He received a medical redshirt for this season.
From the point of Ivory’s injury, former Cherokee County high school standout Coty Blanchard was thrust into the starting role. He threw for over 1,700 yards with 12 touchdowns and rushed for six more scores to lead the Gamecocks to a three-way split of the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Now, the two-headed quarterback monster returns for JSU, which is a good problem for head coach Jack Crowe and offensive coordinator Ronnie Letson to have.
“When the question comes up, I say Coty Blanchard is a starter,” Crowe said. “He’s a guy who played the majority of the season last year and won a conference championship, so I don’t think you can really call him a back-up quarterback.
“Marques is our starting quarterback, but I am going to get Coty in the Arkansas game somehow because he is a playmaker. I think he is one of the best playmakers that I have ever been around and I have been around a few. He does some unique things that are really, really special – he just makes athletic plays.”
Blanchard, now a junior, returned to practice with the Gamecocks on Aug. 14. The dual-sport athlete spent the summer playing baseball in the Cape Cod League for the Falmouth Commodores.
Blanchard played in 38 games, batting .257 with six doubles and 15 RBI. He led the team with 19 walks and was third on the team with eight stolen bases after helping the Commodores post a 21-23 record and finish third in the Western Division to advance to the playoffs.
But now, baseball season is behind Blanchard, and he’s anxious to get back on the football field.
“I’ve really missed working out with the guys this summer, but I’m ready to get into football mode,” Blanchard said. “I’ve talked with Coach Crowe and he has plans for me but won’t throw me right into the fire. It’s going to be a slow process, but I’m just ready to get out on the field.”
Ivory said there’s no animosity between the two for playing time. As Ivory puts it, “I look at it like this man needs to be out on the field.”
“He’s a really good athlete, a really good quarterback. He needs to be playing something somewhere at sometime,” Ivory said. “It’s really not discouraging like some people think it is. He helps the team, and that’s what we need.”
Crowe’s plan is to play Blanchard beginning on the third series at SEC-opponent Arkansas on Sept. 1.
“I know I’ve got a lot of confidence (in Coty), and that’s no reflection on Marques,” Crowe said. “Marques is an exceptional field leader and throwing talent. Coty just gives you those athletic legs and a sense of the field. They’re quite different, but then again they’re quite the same. If you can get it down to one play, I’d put either one of those guys against anybody playing college football anywhere. If it comes down to one play, which one am I going to put in the game? That may be a problem. There might be a fight on the sideline. I’ll be reaching in my pocket for a quarter.”
Letson said he and Blanchard communicated throughout the summer, mostly by texting. He has full confidence Blanchard will be back to football form.
“He always has an energy, an awe about him. That’s a good thing,” Letson said. “There’s going to be a little adjusting. Baseball and football are different. It’s going to take him a little bit to be back in full form as a quarterback. Fortunately, Marques is back for us, and that will take a little bit of the pressure off him. We can kind of ease him into it. We’ve just got to make sure he’s got that energy, that fuel. We’ll do whatever we have to do to make it work.”
Both quarterbacks have a tremendous amount of returning talent to utilize, including senior tailback Washaun Ealey, senior receiver Alan Bonner, and Blanchard’s high school teammate Gabriel Chambers.
Ealey rushed for 1,082 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Bonner led the Gamecock receivers with 33 catches for 582 yards and three scores.
“I think it makes us versatile,” Ivory said. “We’re not one-dimensional at all. I think that’s going to be a big thing for people to stop us, trying to pick which one to defend.”
Chambers, used mostly on special teams last season, was second in the OVC in kickoff return yardage, averaging 24.4 yards per return. He’s expected to play an even bigger role with the Gamecock offense this season.
“I have a good group of receivers around me. They’ve taught me a lot,” Chambers said. “. Last year was kind of my fault because I didn’t get in the playbook like I should have, and they just utilized me on special teams. This year, during the off-season, I stayed in the playbook a lot. Hopefully I’ll be back in the rotation.”
Chambers said it’s exciting to be part of a potent offense.
“This year, we should put more points on the board. I think this should be a big year for us offense-wise. I’m ready for the season and see how it goes.”
One newcomer that’s expected to make a splash in the backfield with Ealey this season is former Anniston High School running back Troymaine Pope. Pope rushed for 2,539 yards and 31 touchdowns as a high school senior last year.
All of JSU’s offensive weapons will be behind a line that returns all but one starter from a year ago, including Preseason All-OVC selection Tori Mobley and 2011 Preseason All-OVC pick Odie Rush, who returns after an injury sidelined him a year ago.
The Gamecocks will be young on defense after losing seven starters after last season.
Senior DiMetrio Tyson anchors the Gamecock defensive front, while junior Rashad Smith, the team’s leading tackler last season, leads JSU in the middle. Sophomore safety Pierre Warren and senior linebacker Nick Johnson are JSU’s other two returning starters on defense.
The unit also has a trio of other area football players in Piedmont sophomore linebacker Jamaal Johnson, Collinsville junior defensive back Robert Gray, and Cherokee County/Clemson transfer Desmond Brown, a sophomore defensive back.