(STATS) - The way John Grass tells it, there was a time when Bryant Horn's quarterback career at Jacksonville State was over before it started.
"Bryant came in as a walk-on and had a redshirt year and I told him he was moving to defense, and that he would never play quarterback here since he had about five guys in front of him," the Gamecocks coach said.
"He proved me wrong."
Now a redshirt junior, Horn, who played safety, linebacker and fared well on special teams since coming to Jacksonville State, makes his first start at quarterback Saturday when the No. 6 Gamecocks take on 12th-ranked Chattanooga. However, getting to this point might end up being the easy part for Horn, who finds himself in the somewhat unenviable role of replacing All-American Eli Jenkins.
"We are not going to replace him. I just think you can't," Grass said of Jenkins, who in his career threw for 7,652 yards, rushed for 3,796, was responsible for 89 total touchdowns and led JSU to a national runner-up finish in 2015.
The good news for Horn is that he's not the only Ohio Valley Conference quarterback in this situation.
Only UT Martin's Troy Cook, Eastern Illinois' Mitch Kimble and Jesse Hosket of Southeast Missouri State return as having seen the most significant action of any other league quarterbacks from last season. Austin Peay's JaVaughn Craig started the final five games of 2016, but has some worthy competition from freshman Jeremiah Oatsvall.
The rest of the conference is essentially starting over at the quarterback spot, though Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech have FBS transfers who bring that kind of experience under center.
"It's exciting and I am ready to play," said Horn, who saw little time last season after earning his way back to the position as Jenkins' backup. "It is a new experience, but the game is still the same."
Murray State must replace KD Humphries, the school's all-time leading passer with 10,463 yards and 73 touchdowns. As many as six players were in contention to take over for Humphries, who ranked sixth in the FCS with 3,116 passing yards last season.
"It's a good tight group," Racers coach Mitch Stewart said of the competition at quarterback.
While both Murray State and Jacksonville State won't have much sustained experience at quarterback to begin the campaign, Tennessee State hopes Florida transfer Treon Harris can successfully follow Ronald Butler, who led all OVC quarterbacks with 28 total touchdowns in 2016. Harris, named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2014, threw for 2,695 yards and ran for 570 but was hindered by some off-field issues in his two years with the Gators.
"I like the way he's taken control of the offense," Tennessee State coach Rod Reed said. "He's demanding in there. ... But he's real positive with the guys."
Even among those returning to their familiar starting roles under center, Kimble was limited to seven games while dealing with an injury.
Hosket, meanwhile, will be the first quarterback at Southeast Missouri to start consecutive seasons since Matt Scheible (2008-11) and was a member of the All-OVC Newcomer Team last year.
"Jesse is a once in a generation kid and his character and work ethic is inspiring," SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz told the school's official website.
Perhaps the most established quarterback within the league is Cook. The All-OVC Preseason first-team selection ranked 11th in the FCS in yards per completion (13.98) and tied for 22nd in touchdowns (22).
"(I want to) live up to the all-conference measure, and I want to be an All-American," Cook said. "I want to bring back an OVC championship, that would be the main goal.
"I put more pressure on myself than anything, and I'm just going to go out and prove it."