But whether that means Blanchard will go through spring football practice for the first time in his college career remains uncertain.
Blanchard, one of JSU’s most unique athletes, had a unique understanding with former coach Jack Crowe. The Cherokee County product might have been a valuable asset as a quarterback, but Crowe allowed him to skip spring practice each year to play baseball, where it’s believed he has an even brighter future.
But this year the situation is even more unique. Blanchard could return as the most experienced quarterback on Clark’s first JSU team that is expected to run “some form of spread offense” and will need the spring to learn it, but he’s also about to go into a vital junior baseball season that dovetails into his eligibility for the major league draft.
“I’m sure we’ll discuss that when we get back from Christmas break,” Blanchard said. “Hopefully, he’ll be on board. If not, I’m sure we can figure something out.”
Blanchard has three years of experience as a quarterback in the old JSU offense. He burst on the scene as a freshman to produce the winning drive in a debut upset at Ole Miss and became the full-time starter as a sophomore after Marques Ivory sustained a season-ending injury in the opener.
He parlayed his football success into a Freshman All-American season on the diamond, but his production fell off last spring as the result of the pounding he took in football. This year, he joined the JSU football team after camp opened following a full summer in the Cape Cod League, and his playing time was inconsistent.
Clark agrees the quandary is one of the biggest initial questions he faces. He is prepared to discuss the options but has not set down any ultimatums.
“The guy’s a great player,” Clark said. “You don’t know where his future’s at, so I can’t ask him to take away a chance to make a living someday. But you need your quarterback.
“It would be hard for him to show up the first day practice starts, so hopefully I’ll have him in the summer; I don’t know what the spring will entail. I want him as much as I can get him and then we’ll have to go from there. I’ve got to get him as much as I can get him. We need him. Your quarterback has a lot of work he has to do in the offseason.”
It could be a crowded depth chart at the position. In addition to Blanchard, the Gamecocks’ other quarterbacks are little-used Steven Coates, walk-on Kyle West, redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins, November signee Jayce Barber and Spain Park verbal commitment Nick Mullens. The father of Jerry Slota, a versatile and highly touted JUCO quarterback, told The Star last month his son would like to play quarterback again.
Blanchard admitted he was “a little worried” about his arrangement when the coaching change was announced, but he’s confident Clark will understand. In anticipation of a bigger football commitment this spring, Blanchard said he’s been doing “a lot of baseball” during the break.
He said he didn’t believe missing the college baseball season would adversely affect his draftability.
“If I have to go through spring football practice, I won’t be the first one who did it,” he said. “If that’s what (Clark) wants, then I can do that, too. It’s not a big deal. … I’ll be on board.”
Blanchard’s father, Fran, a former JSU letterman, said one shouldn’t read anything about the future into his son’s appearance with several other football players at the news conference. While he said he believed Coty “would really enjoy coming back” to play football, they were taking a wait-and-see approach to the double duty.
“What Coty is committed to is being a teammate, and he knew he needs to be here for coach Clark,” Fran said. “We’ve got to get with coach Clark and (baseball coach Jim) Case and see where it shakes out.”
Case anticipates seeing Blanchard in his lineup this spring.
“I fully expect him to be with us in baseball, I would fully expect that to happen,” Case said, “but I haven’t had a chance to meet with (Clark) about that yet.
“I think obviously (Coty’s) going to have an opportunity to be more successful if he’s with baseball the whole time, but that’s something coach (Clark) and I will have to sit down and talk about. He just got here.”
Other highlights from the news conference:
• Clark initially will receive a four-year contract with a salary athletics director Warren Koegel said would be “in that range” that would make him one of the highest-paid coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference. He declined further comment until the deal gets signed.
The highest-paid OVC coach among those responding to Open Records requests by The Star is Eastern Kentucky’s Dean Hood at more than $180,000. Three Tennessee schools have declined to respond, citing the state citizenship provision in that state’s record laws.
“I’m pleased,” Clark said. “They’re taking care of it.”
South Alabama records indicate Clark was making $140,000 a year as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator. Former JSU coach Crowe’s most recent contract carried a $160,000 annual base salary.
• Clark plans to meet with Crowe’s assistants today in an effort to begin forming a staff. Longtime defensive aide Duwan Walker is expected to join him from South Alabama, but no formal hires have been made.
JSU athletics director Warren Koegel said the salary pool for assistants has been “improved a little bit from where it was,” but wouldn’t get into specifics. According to JSU records, the athletics department paid out nearly $430,000 in assistants’ salaries in fiscal year 2012.
“We’re doing it within our means,” he said. “(Clark) knows where we are now and what we can do now. We have moved some things a little bit, but we’re not talking about Auburn or Alabama. We’re not making this drastic change.
“I said to every candidate when I had them, ‘Here’s how much you have, can you make this work?’ I wasn’t ever going to bring somebody in here if they didn’t have a pretty good idea before they came in what they have. He has the number, he knows what it is and he knows what he can do to work with the people he wants to bring in.
“We want to be competitive and we want to be fair, too. We’re going to do what we can to make this a place where people can come in and work and make a good living and do a good job.”
• Clark was asked what he had to do to earn the players’ trust following a coach who guided the program for 13 seasons. He said the players can see through the clutter and get right to it, and they seemed to on Wednesday.
“He’s a real energetic guy,” linebacker Ben Endress said. “I feel like I can trust him to lead us to a national championship right off the bat. I really do believe we can do it. He seems like a really good coach. I can’t wait for him get out there and coach us.”
• The Gamecocks are close to giving Clark a full schedule to play against in his first season. Koegel said he believed a contract for one of the two games is in the mail — he wouldn’t disclose the opponent — but the Aug. 31 opener remains unfilled.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.