ARLINGTON, Texas — Gary Patterson isn’t sure where his team would be if Alex Delton hadn’t decided to join the program.
“To be honest with you,” Patterson said at Big 12 Media Days on Monday, “he saved us.”
Delton, a graduate transfer who spent the last four seasons at Kansas State, came to the rescue at a time when Patterson’s TCU squad lacked able-bodied quarterbacks in the spring.
Former TCU signal-caller Shawn Robinson transferred to Missouri at the end of last season. The quarterbacks who remained on campus in Fort Worth, Texas, had their own issues. Mike Collins was out with an injury. Justin Rogers wasn’t at optimum health, either. And Max Duggan is only a freshman.
So adding a fifth-year senior in Delton was a godsend for the Horned Frogs.
“You had a guy that came in, rolled his sleeves up, went through our off-season which is not easy, did a great job with that,” Patterson said of Delton, who played in 20 games with six starts in his four years with the Wildcats. “He’s woven himself into being one of the guys on our team. I think he’s helped our team chemistry quite a bit.”
Lucas Niang didn’t dispute that assessment. The senior offensive tackle said he liked Delton from the moment they met. Delton is outgoing, Niang said, an essential trait for a quarterback.
“He likes to talk a lot, which definitely is helpful, having an old head to command the young troops,” Niang said.
But Niang also saw humility from Delton he didn’t quite expect.
“ He works hard — very hard,” said Niang, who started every game last season and didn’t allow a single sack. “He could have (come) in as a grad transfer — he started (some games) last season at K-State — and been like, ‘This is my job. I’m just here to do me.’ But he put his head down and worked with us immediately, like he was a freshman.”
Niang said teammates haven’t forgotten to remind Delton of the results of the past two games between the Wildcats and Horned Frogs — TCU won both, with Delton receiving plenty of playing time in each. Yet Niang was quick to add that “it’s all friendly.” And he believes Delton’s background in the Big 12 is an asset.
“Just because that’s an experience factor,” Niang said. “A lot of people don’t have that. You can only get experience by being in those games. So that experience is very important. I think that’s going to help him a lot in this competition.”
If Delton wins the starting quarterback competition, he’ll look in Jalen Reagor’s direction often. A rising junior, Reagor caught 72 passes for 1,061 yards last season. A staggering 61% (44 of 72) of Reagor’s catches went for either a first down or touchdown in 2018.
He expects Delton will help him make more gamebreaking plays this fall — if he gets the opportunity.
“He’s just very, very smart,” Reagor said of Delton. “He makes smart decisions. He knows when to throw the ball away, when to run the ball. As y’all know, he’s a great runner. So he’s just very smart.”
Sizing up the quarterback race, Reagor answered before the question even finished: Delton “absolutely” is in prime position to rise to the top of the depth chart. Reagor then repeated himself for emphasis. Then he backtracked ever so slightly.
As much as he likes Delton, Reagor refuses to make any assumptions about who will be under center come the opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 7 p.m. Aug. 31.
“I let that handle itself, because if (you start ranking), you begin to have favorites and you kind of create a block (in your mind),” he said. “Like, ‘OK, I don’t want that quarterback right now.’”
But Delton is exactly what the Horned Frogs needed earlier this year. Patterson pointed out Delton “sought us out,” not the other way around. Delton took a circuitous path to Fort Worth.
After deciding to leave K-State once Skylar Thompson had entrenched himself as the starter, Delton originally committed to Texas-El Paso, where former Wildcats offensive coordinator Dana Dimel is now head coach. But after a conversation between Patterson and recently retired K-State head coach Bill Snyder, Delton reached out to gauge TCU’s interest.
It was mutual.
“We got him on campus, and I didn’t know a lot about him,” Patterson said. “He grew up an hour and 15 minutes away from my hometown. He’s from Hays and Pony Heights is where I grew up, so I knew about him coming out of high school. Was very impressed with him when he came on campus, the way he handled himself.”
Delton’s mere presence, Patterson said, improves the morale of the quarterback room.
“(He’s) guy that knows how to handle himself, how to prepare, how to do things,” Patterson said. “I think for our program, without even talking about winning and losing, he has made that position a lot better just because of the way he does things.”
Reagor said he developed a friendship with Delton quickly. It’s because they’re so similar, Reagor said.
They’re “mellow, relaxed, chill dudes.”
Fortunately for Delton, Reagor said, K-State and TCU have similar colors.
“That’s good for him,” Reagor said with a laugh. “Otherwise, he’d have to clean out his closet a lot.”
For Niang, any feelings of animosity toward Delton that once may have existed have melted away.
He couldn’t be happier that Delton’s on his side now.
“He’s like another one of us, honestly,” Niang said. “It doesn’t feel like he’s a transfer. Some people you can tell; they kind of distance themselves from the team. But he makes an attempt to include himself, and to be included. He’s a genuine person. I feel like he really has my back out there. When we go out there and go play on the field, I know Alex’s got my back.”