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August 22, 2013

Reilly to start at Notre Dame

The most significant piece of information to come out of Thursday's Temple football media day involved head coach Matt Rhule officially naming Connor Reilly his starting quarterback for next Saturday's season opener at Notre Dame.

Reilly, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, will have the honor of starting his first game in one of America's most historic football venues and against a Fighting Irish team that played in the national championship game against Alabama back in January. He had been challenged as of late by senior Clinton "Juice" Granger, who started the last two games of the 2012 season, but Reilly played well enough to hold him off.

"Juice has played great, and he's put himself in position where he could start for us and would play really well if he did," Rhule said. "But we felt as a team that Connor would do the best job for us, and we're going to start him."

At this time last year, Reilly had walked on to the Temple baseball team and figured a role as the football team's starting quarterback wasn't in his future. He played in all 12 games last year - but as the holder on extra points for former placekicker Brandon McManus, and his only time at quarterback came in three games two seasons ago in mop-up duty as a redshirt freshman.

In fact, Reilly said Thursday that former Owls head coach Steve Addazio, who much preferred a run-heavy offense, once implied he would be better off transferring to a program that could utilize him more.

"But I'm not a quitter," Reilly said.

Reilly's ears perked up when Rhule, who had been a Temple assistant for six years before spending the 2012 season as the New York Giants' assistant offensive line coach, returned in December as the Owls' head coach and told the team that no player had guaranteed himself a starting spot.

And once former starter Chris Coyer spoke with Rhule and decided to move to H-back, Reilly found himself competing with Granger and eventually emerged from spring drills atop the depth chart. The two have spent plenty of time with the first-team offense during preseason camp this
month, even as Reilly fought through a sprained ankle, but Rhule told Reilly about an hour before Thursday's media day session he was the guy.

"I was smiling," Reilly said when asked about his reaction to being named the starter, "but it was a competition to the very end, though. Clinton was there neck and neck with me until the very end, and Coach Rhule made his decision based on the scrimmage on Wednesday."

His reward? Playing his first meaningful snaps of college football against a dynamic Notre Dame 3-4 defense that features a pair of preseason all-Americans and future NFL Draft picks in nose tackle Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

"I'm trying to take a deep breath, count to three and slow everything down," Reilly said. "It's definitely going to be a great experience. But once we enter the field on Saturday and the ball hits my hand, it's just a football game."

Listen to Thursday's media day interviews with Rhule, Reilly, Coyer and defensive tackleLevi Brown here.

Matt Rhule

Connor Reilly

Chris Coyer

Levi Brown

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.

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