HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. -- Hampden-Sydney College senior quarterback Clay Vick has never started a college football game. His career passing statistics while seeing limited action in 20 games over the past three seasons are indeed solid numbers — 24-38 for 291 yards and two touchdowns — albeit for one game. Despite the odds seemingly being against him, Vick possesses not only his own confidence, but that of his head coach and teammates as the Tigers begin the 2019 campaign with him as QB1.
"Anyone that has watched us practice the past two years would agree that we had two ODAC-caliber starting quarterbacks with Alec (Cobb) and Clay," said 20th-year Hampden-Sydney head coach Marty Favret. "Clay's waited his turn and I am really looking forward to watching him take this offense to a high level."
Vick saw the field in six games during 2018, but he only attempted four passes all of last season. Those attempts (3-4, 26 yards) came in the season-opening contest at Averett University last September 2 in Danville. Even so, he remains optimistic as a dedicated, three-year veteran of the program.
"I'm very excited," said Vick. "I've had a timer on my phone counting down to this moment (Sept. 7, 1 p.m.). I've been waiting three very long years for this opportunity. We have weapons at every position along with a good balance of leaders on this team. We know our early non-conference games will be difficult, but they'll help us learn and get better for our conference games. We go into each season wanting to beat Macon and win the ODAC."
The North Carolina native arrived on the Hill in August 2016 after his senior season of high school football in 2015 was cut short due to an injury. He had started the first four games that fall at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, throwing for 1,494 yards (88-158) and 16 touchdowns before injuring his kneecap. Vick threw for a school-record 659 yards (38-59) and five touchdowns against Panther Creek (N.C.) on August 28, 2015, which still ranks third-best in North Carolina high school football history. The attempt and completion totals from that record-setting effort each remain among the top 10 all-time in North Carolina.
As a junior at Leesville Road, Vick passed for 2,281 yards (181-285) and 19 touchdowns in 11 games. Though his high school numbers were solid at the Class 4AA level (equivalent to 6A in Virginia), he wasn't heavily recruited, and his final-season injury probably had a lot to do with that fact, as well. Vick did receive some interest from a couple of Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs, including Western Carolina University and Butler University, as a preferred walk-on — with the remaining interest coming from smaller schools. He made a visit to Hampden-Sydney on October 10, 2015, and fell in love with the campus and the brotherhood.
"I talked to former assistant coach Penn Stephenson (a 2010 H-SC graduate), and really enjoyed my conversation with him and decided to attend a game," explained Vick. "I watched us against Washington and Lee, and it was a really close game but with an unfortunate ending. We got stopped on the one-yard line in the final seconds and they won (35-28). I just enjoyed the whole atmosphere (Hall of Fame weekend with an estimated crowd of over 5,000) and decided this was where I wanted to be."
As a freshman in 2016, Vick was one of four QBs on the roster and the only first-year player among the three healthy individuals at the position. The incumbent was injured in game one and sophomore (at the time) Alec Cobb took over in what proved to be the first of his three years as the starter. Vick and Cobb did battle for the starting spot prior to Vick's sophomore year in 2017, and while the open competition was close, Cobb remained the starter for that season and the next — completing his career with 8,951 passing yards and 72 touchdowns in 29 games.
"Alec played well the whole time that he was a starter here," said Vick. "Obviously as the backup, I wanted to play and I wanted to be the starter, but being behind him was great because he taught me a lot. I got to learn from his successes and from his mistakes. He was so helpful and taught me everything that he learned during his three years of playing."
Vick has taken that guidance and used it wisely since the end of last season. He has spent the offseason throwing to the younger receivers on the team to get the timing down. It's a returning offense that features every starter back with the exception of where Vick fits in at QB1, and he is extremely comfortable with those linemen, backs and receivers — a group he has been around for three years. The Tigers return their top eight receivers from a year ago, along with their top two running backs and five of their top 11 tacklers on defense.
"I think I can step in with those guys around me and we'll be good," said Vick, one of four captains for the 2019 Tigers.
"I'm very excited to be a team captain," added Vick. "The other three captains (Griffin Davis, Riggs Jordan, Major Morgan) and I have decided that we want our mentality to be that we treat every game the same and that we come out as hard as we can, and as well as can, and just win."
Among his fellow team captains, senior returning starter and two-time First Team All-ODAC linebacker Griffin Davis is looking forward to seeing Vick take the field and lead the team this year.
"This is a huge opportunity for Clay to showcase his talent," explained Davis. "He has all the skills needed to excel in our offense. I think Alec set a great example for Clay the past three years, and I'm excited to see how he steps into this role as a team leader."
Looking back at everything now, it's hard not to wonder if Vick ever considered leaving.
"I did not," he confidently and firmly stated. "I knew that away from football, what I have here at Hampden-Sydney is special."
Vick, an economics and business major, completed an internship this summer with a lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly. According to Clay, his family is heavily involved in politics around the state of North Carolina and other areas, and it's something that he wants to pursue after graduation next spring.
"I really enjoy politics, and lobbying this summer was a great experience," said Vick. "I met a lot of people, and I do want to go into politics somewhere when I graduate."
For now, however, Vick is solely focused on the upcoming season and this Saturday's non-conference home game against Averett here on Fulton Field at Lewis C. Everett Stadium.
"I just want to thank all of my teammates, especially those in my class, who have stayed together," added Vick. "We've gone through everything together and I thank them and our coaches for the soon-to-be four years we've experienced as a program."