BEND — Gary Andersen is handing the keys to Jake Luton.
Following Tuesday’s practice at Summit High, the Oregon State head coach announced that Luton will start at quarterback for the team’s Aug. 26 opener at Colorado State. Junior Marcus McMaryion and senior Darell Garretson will be the backups.
“The kids put us in a spot to be able to make that decision,” Andersen said. “When the kids give us an opportunity to make the decision… it’s time to make it.”
Luton earned the nod over McMaryion and Garretson, who started six games apiece last season as the Beavers finished with the Pac-12’s second-worst pass offense. OSU averaged 173.8 yards per game through the air in 2016, just ahead of Stanford’s 158.2.
The 6-foot-7, 234-pound Luton passed for 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns during his lone year at Ventura Community College. Both marks are the school’s single-season and career records.
“I love Jake,” cornerback Christian Wallace said. “He reads our defense well, he studies like 22 hours a day and he’s just a great person. There’s never a bad moment with Jake.”
Luton originally signed with Idaho out of Washington’s Marysville-Pilchuck High before landing at Ventura.
About a week before spring practice, Luton was beset by a mysterious illness. The redshirt junior lost nearly 30 pounds and didn’t recover fully until the summer.
“More than anything, it was frustrating,” Luton said last week. “To start spring ball and have that ailment and not really know what was wrong with me was frustrating, but I powered through it in practice and I still tried to give everything I had."
Luton got healthy and showed enough early in fall camp to be rewarded with the starting job.
“I think he just became much more consistent,” Andersen said. “Frankly he had an opportunity to compete, which was very hard for him to do in the spring with the situation as far as his health. (We liked) the consistency in making the good decisions we’re asking him to make, and for the most part taking what’s there.”
Added safety Jalen Moore: “I feel like Jake does a good job of being a leader. He sees a lot of the routes, he sees a lot of the coverages because he’s tall out there. He can see more of the defense and I feel like he’s bought in. He wants to win games.”
Andersen said McMaryion and Garretson are both in contention to earn the backup spot.
McMaryion started OSU’s final six games of 2016, completing 101 of 170 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,286 yards with 10 TDs and five interceptions. Garretson finished 73 of 146 (50 percent) for 617 yards with three scores and four picks.
At the end of Tuesday’s practice, McMaryion was running the second-team offense.
“We know we are going to need multiple quarterbacks, potentially, as the year goes on and I think those kids will definitely accept their role,” Andersen said. “The other two kids, I don’t want to discount their effort or discount what they’ve put into it. It was a battle, it’s a continual battle, and we will continue to move forward.”
Senior Jordan Villamin and true freshman Isaiah Hodgins are slated to be the starting outside receivers, Andersen said. Junior Seth Collins, who began his career at quarterback, is the starting slot receiver.
All three stand 6-3 or taller.
“They are strong, athletic and all three have had a very, very good camp,” Andersen said. “They are all big, tall and can run, and that’s what you need in the Pac-12.”