Kniffin named opening day starting quarterback

Jeremiah Martinez

With the Sacramento State football team’s season opener against Eastern Oregon University next Saturday, coach Jody Sears said Daniel Kniffin will be under center next weekend.

Kniffin was named the starter over Kolney Cassel after Saturday’s Green and Gold scrimmage.

“The great thing about Kniffin is that he’s been in the offense for two years,” Sears said. “Going into his third year, he knows the system, understands the concept, he understands everything. So just that alone, it really kind of gave him the inside track.”

Sears said both quarterbacks have been impressive in training camp and the coaching staff came to the decision at the end of this week’s practice.

“For the most part, I think we have always kind of known,” Sears said. “He’s going to be our starter and I feel very comfortable with Kolney as our backup.”

Kniffin is taking over the starting position after previous signal-caller Garrett Safron held career records in the program including passing yards (9,713), touchdowns (86) completions (833), and attempts (1,332) before graduating last spring.

Also, Safron had season-high records in program history with passing yards (3,490), touchdowns (34), yards per game (290.8) and pass efficiency (151.8) last season.

Kniffin was Safron’s backup last season as a redshirt freshman and has learned from the quarterback, such as making certain throws on the field and reading the defense.

“It really helped me out…and I started seeing things in practice and I’m like ‘OK, that’s what Garrett said,’” Kniffin said. “I started getting my reads a lot like his and he obviously made great reads and a ton of plays.”

Cassel didn’t receive many reps during spring ball, but emerged in the quarterback competition during camp despite learning the offensive scheme this summer.

Even though Cassel was named the backup quarterback, Sears said he was pleased with the sophomore’s performance during the Green and Gold scrimmage, especially with the throws he made.

“He could flat [out] throw the football,” Sears said. “No question about it.”

Cassel, a transfer from Southern Methodist University, made strides during camp despite limited reps in spring ball.

“It was going to be difficult for me to get ahead of him because he already had the upper hand at spring and being here for two years,” Cassel said. “He’s good, he’s going to get it done. It was a pretty good competition between me and him.”

At SMU, Cassel appeared in five games in 2014, including one start against Texas A&M University. Last year with the Mustangs, Cassel completed 15-of-37 attempts for 156 yards and one touchdown.

The quarterback position had been a question mark leading up to the season, which was an open competition since the Hornets started spring ball. Before camp ended, the competition dwindled down to Kniffin and Cassel before Kniffin won the starting job.

Senior Nnamdi Agude said Kniffin’s knowledge of the offense should help with the production from the start of the season.

“Daniel has been in the system for two to three years now and he’s our guy right now,” Agude said. “He has the tools [of] what it takes and Kolney is great backup. Even if Kniffin went down or anything happens, Kolney could easily step up and do his thing.”

Kniffin and the Hornets will kick off their season at 6:05 p.m. next Saturday against Eastern Oregon at Hornet Stadium.

It’ll be the first time the Hornets will kick off the season at home since 2008.