After starting the season 0-4, football head coach Pete Mangurian has named first-year Kelly Hilinski the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Hilinski's first start will be on the big stage of this Saturday's Homecoming game against Penn.
“He’s going to start the game and he’ll stay in there until there’s a reason to take him out,” Mangurian told Spectator on Wednesday. “There are going to be some growing pains there, but I think going forward that’s the best thing for our football team. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Hilinski, who came to Columbia from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., will start the Homecoming game during his fifth time dressing as a collegiate player. Though he was listed at the top of last week’s two-deep, sophomore Trevor McDonagh came out for the fist snaps in a 24-10 loss to No. 16 Lehigh. Playing the second quarter and the majority of the second half, Hilinski completed six of his 14 passes for 43 yards.
On the season, Hilinski is 16-35 for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Though he’s fallen to No. 2 on the depth chart, McDonagh still has the trust of his head coach.
“I think if the situation presents itself where Trevor needs to go in and play, then I have confidence in Trevor,” Mangurian said. “But I think Kelly at this point gives us the best chance to do the things that we want to do.”
Mangurian said part of what sets Hilinski apart is his physical talent—and the fact that he has “a spark about him.”
“He can see over the rush,” Mangurian said of the 6-foot-6 first-year. “He can make all the throws. Actually, the things that he’s struggling with are things that we have confidence will improve the more reps he gets.”
After a standout senior season in high school, for which he was named an All-Serra League quarterback, Hilinski turned down scholarships to Arkansas, Colorado, UNLV, and Wyoming to come to Columbia. He helped lead Notre Dame to the quarterfinals of the Pac-5 Division playoffs in California. But even with the quarterback’s experience in a big high school program, Mangurian said it’s Hilinski’s ability that sets him apart.
“Obviously he was a highly recruited guy with a lot of skills,” Mangurian said. “I don’t think it’s the program as much as it just is the skill set and the competition that he’s been in, and how he responds to being in this situation.”
Mangurian said that Hilinski has already overcome some rough moments since he’s been a member of the Light Blue.
“He wanted to be a freshman in college and that’s the way he acted,” Mangurian said. “He’s been forced to step up and kind of mature quickly and let go some of that foolish stuff you do when you’re young. Go and get ready to work and lead the football team. And I’m happy with the way he’s done that.”
Though Columbia’s quarterback situation was thrown for a loop when junior Brett Nottingham went down with a season-ending injury during the team's first game, Mangurian is happy enough with Hilinski’s development to accelerate the timetable for the first-year to take the reigns of the offense.
“I just think right now, the best thing for our football team is for Kelly Hilinski to be the quarterback, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Mangurian said. “We knew this day would come when he’d have the opportunity to lead the football team. We didn’t know that we’d get there in this circuitous a route, but we’re there, and here we go this week.”