Tyler Joice has been named the Tahlequah starting quarterback as the Tigers inch closer to their week one contest against Tulsa McLain.
Joice, a junior, edged out senior Hunter Smith, who has been dinged with multiple injuries.
It’s the fourth time in the Brad Gilbert head coach era that the Tigers have had a competition for the starting spot leading up to a season opener.
“We’re going to go with Tyler,” Gilbert said after making the decision in the days following the Tigers’ final scrimmage at Hilldale. “Tyler had a good three weeks of practice and he’s got a good grasp of what we’re doing offensively. More importantly, I think it’s just the ability that he has when it comes to being even keel, the same guy all the time. He doesn’t get rattled. It’s a strength of his, and he also has the ability to run the football.
“Hunter’s been battling injuries. He’s got a shoulder issue right now and he’s got a back issue. He’s been limited in what he can do, and that’s the tough part about it. He and I have talked, and he knows that. He’s done a really good job in handling everything, he’s come to work everyday and put his best foot forward, and we know what we have in him.”
Joice, who will be replacing the 2019 District 5A-4 Co-Quarterback of the Year in Tate Christian, will be the sixth different starting quarterback to begin a season under Gilbert, who is entering his ninth year as head coach.
Christian, now at Northeastern State, helped guide Tahlequah to a district championship last year. In his two years, the Tigers won 18 games and made two playoff appearances.
Joice and Smith are very inexperienced. They combined to complete 7 of 17 passes for 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception in 2019.
There’s some big shoes to fill for Joice, but Gilbert likes what Joice brings to the table. He gives the Tigers a dual threat at the position.
“He’s played really well,” Gilbert said. “In the first two scrimmages we’ve had, for a guy that hasn’t really been out there, I think he’s thrown the ball at a pretty successful rate. He’s got to get better with his footwork. He’s got to get better at understanding his reads. He’s very steady and he’s well-liked by his teammates. He runs the ball really well and makes people miss. He just has a good feel for the game. The great thing about where he’s at, there’s so much more room for improvement. He’s not really even beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be, and that’s exciting.”
Gilbert had David Dick as his starter in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Will Carlile started in 2014, Kyle Lucas took over the role in 2015, and both Cayden Aldridge and Christian followed as consecutive two-year starters.
“Our quarterback battles have always been competitive,” Gilbert said. “More importantly than the guy who won the job, what’s impressed me has been the guy who didn’t win the job and just how they handled it. I think that speaks volumes of the young men we’ve had in our program. Based on the quarterback that doesn’t win the job, it can have an effect on your team if it’s not handled the right way.
“We’ve always gone into these competitions looking at it as an open race and just seeing where we are and who we need to be. As the days and weeks move forward you kind of see not only their abilities and strengths but what our team needs. The most important thing is the overall leadership of that young man. The quarterback is a reflection of not only the current team but the program as a whole.”
Gilbert, who coaches the quarterbacks, has maintained success at the position throughout his tenure at Tahlequah.
“I think it just goes back to just expectations we have within our program,” he said. “It just so happens to be that our quarterbacks have done a tremendous job embracing those. It’s nothing that I do. It’s nothing that any individual does. I think it’s what we do as a program and then we try to fit our system offensively to their abilities.”
The Tigers open their season Friday against McLain in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Doc Wadley Stadium.