Kellen Mond didn’t have an offseason conversation with coach Jimbo Fisher about where he stood in Texas A&M’s starting quarterback battle.
Instead, Fisher asked the sophomore about what he thought it’d take to win the starting job. Mond’s answer was simple — go out and act like he belongs at the top of the depth chart. From commanding more of the offense to becoming more of a leader and building trust with the new coaching staff, Mond spent the offseason working on his craft.
In the climate surrounding college football today, it’d make sense for a quarterback to transfer if there’s uncertainty about winning the starting job. For Mond, that wasn’t even an option. Instead, he spent the preseason staking his claim as QB1.
“I just feel like there’s no reason to,” Mond said of transferring. “I feel comfortable in my position. I feel comfortable in the way Jimbo Fisher develops quarterbacks and has developed me so far since he got here. It never really crossed my mind and never will.”
The opening practices of the preseason, including Sunday’s public workout at Kyle Field, showed why. It was his turn to lead the first-string offense at practice as part of a rotating schedule with sophomore Nick Starkel, who ended last season by supplanting Mond as the starter.
Normally when two guys are battling in preseason for the starting spot, it’s easy to declare the situation a “controversy.” Given the way Mond and Starkel get along, that doesn’t seem to be an appropriate way to label the preseason battle between both guys.
And if one takes what Fisher said on Sunday at face value, Mond or Starkel could be viable options when the Aggies open the season on Aug. 30.
“Both are guys are pressing each other very well and doing a good job,” Fisher said. “I feel comfortable with both guys. I really do.”
Based on the way both players ended last season, one could argue Mond had among the most to prove during Fisher’s first offseason in College Station.
Mond, who started eight games in the middle of the season, combined for 29-of-72 passing for 330 yards and three interceptions in the final seven games.
After Starkel recovered from a leg injury he suffered in the season-opener against UCLA, he started A&M’s final four games and threw for over 400 yards in two games, including a 499-yard effort in a loss to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl.
But after Fisher was hired, the slate was clean. Both players had an opportunity to show the new coaching staff they could run a complex offense and move the ball effectively.
Fisher’s hire has also helped Mond fix some of the things that ailed him as a true freshman out of IMG Academy. Mond said he’s been working on being able to throw under pressure, cycle through his receiver progression and keep two hands on the ball while scanning the field.
“Just the way he wants us to understand (passing) reads and why we do certain stuff has helped me,” said Mond, whose game has improved tremendously with the newfound understanding.
Sunday was the first time both players spoke to the media since April, when Mond recovered from a slow start to lead his team to victory in the intrasquad spring game. While the gap between Starkel and Mond appears to have dwindled significantly since the end of last season, Starkel isn’t approaching the battle as one that contains animosity.
“I’m not competing against Kellen every day,” Starkel said. “I’m competing against the defense every day. That’s my philosophy. I’m just trying to get the ball in the end zone and put us in a good position to score.”
Both players had their share of good and bad moments during Sunday’s scrimmage. In one of Mond’s highlights of the day, he threw a touchdown pass of more than 30 yards to sophomore wide receiver Quartney Davis.
The completion that drew “oohs” from the crowd was an example of how Mond’s passing game has developed and what he brings to this year’s quarterback competition.
“I feel like it’s made great strides and can only get better,” Mond said.