Good Chance Beavers have a top quarterback
CORVALLIS — Oregon State's juco-transfer quarterback owns an out-of-the-ordinary given name.
"My older brother's name is Chad, so when I came along, my parents were trying to keep the 'Ch' sound," Chance Nolan said. "My little brother's name is Cade, though. They stuck with the 'C' but couldn't get the 'Ch.'
"Chance is an unusual name, but I like it. It suits me."
As in, Nolan is willing to take a chance or two — calculated, it would seem — on the football field.
The 6-3, 200-pound redshirt sophomore has the physical skills to push the envelope on occasion, something he did well last fall in his only season with Saddleback JC in Mission Viejo, California.
Nolan was the league's Most Valuable Player in leading the Gauchos to a 9-2 record, completing 66 percent of his passes for 3,315 yards and 38 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He also ran for 1,069 yards and six TDs.
Saddlebrook was 9-0 before losing to Riverside 56-25 in its regular-season finale. The Gauchos then lost 58-53 to College of the Canyons in a first-round playoff game. They trailed 58-26 before coming on with a furious rush, scoring four touchdowns over the final 11 minutes.
In that game, Nolan rolled up 577 yards total offense with seven TDs. He completed 33 of 47 passes for 390 yards and one interception and ran 31 times for 187 yards and two scores. Nolan either ran or passed on 80 of the 107 offensive plays.
None if it surprised his coach at Saddleback, Mark McElroy.
"The best quarterback I've coached in 21 years at Saddleback and another 15 years at other levels," McElroy said. "I was a grad assistant at BYU when Ty Detmer was there, but I didn't coach him. Chance is like having a Steph Curry on the field. That's what I told (OSU coach) Jonathan Smith when I told him about Chance."
Early in his career, McElroy coached high school ball in San Clemente, Calif. During that time, there was a young quarterback at Glendora High — 90 minutes up Interstate 5 — named Jonathan Smith. Smith's mother worked at Azuza Pacific when McElroy taught graduate classes there.
"That was our connection," McElroy said. "His parents asked me to work with Jonathan in the offseason between sophomore and junior and junior and senior years. He was the only athlete I ever coached who didn't play for me."
"Mark was like my quarterback coach for a while," Smith said. "We go way back."
During last season, McElroy contacted several coaches he knew about Nolan, "but I contacted Jonathan first," he said.
"I felt it would be a really good fit, knowing Jonathan and getting to know the offensive coordinator (Brian Lindgren), who came down to see Chance a couple of times," McElroy said. "I felt comfortable with him, too."
McElroy paused, then added: "I should add something here. (A college decision) was totally Chance's choice. I stayed away from that part of it."
Nolan had been exceptional athlete at Paloma High in Menifee, Calif., where he was a three-year starter at quarterback, throwing for 3,843 yards and 45 TDs and running for 856 yards and three TDs as a senior. In his varsity career, Nolan threw for 9,995 yards and 115 TDs and was twice an All-CIF selection. He also was a three-year starter and a two-time league MVP in basketball.
But Nolan, then 6-2 and 185 pounds, didn't get much college attention for football. He wound up at Middle Tennessee State, where he redshirted as a freshman, and then transferred to Saddleback.
"I was ready to compete in the spring (at Middle Tennessee State)," Nolan said, "but I felt my best decision would be to go the juco route and see if I could find something better."
By then, Nolan said, he was playing with a "chip on my shoulder."
"Coming out of high school," he said, "I felt like I wasn't recruited like I should have been."
That changed during his season at Saddleback. Nolan narrowed his choices to UCLA, Utah, Oklahoma State and Oregon State before choosing the Beavers.
"The biggest thing was the coaching staff and the relationships I built with them through the recruiting process," Nolan said. "They put their best foot forward, always reaching out to me from the beginning."
Nolan committed to the OSU coaches during his recruiting trip in early December.
"I had the feeling I was going to Oregon State when they first offered me, that this was a really good place for me," he said. "And when I came out here, seeing the facilities and how beautiful Corvallis is, that stuck with me and put my decision over the top."
Smith said it didn't take him long to target Nolan as a player he wanted to become a Beaver.
"Just watching his ability to move and throw, the season he was having, the way Mark raved about him," Smith said. "Then after getting to know the kid personally ... he has a good family, he's competitive. We feel great about the fit."
The Gauchos ran a fast-paced spread, no-huddle offense that featured Nolan's talents.
"He's a phenomenal passer, has exceptional quickness and great vision," McElroy said. "He's very strong for his size and has breakaway speed. He doesn't ever really get hit. He never got injured all year long, not once. The only time he was pulled out of a game was when we were way ahead. He never came out of a game."
Nolan said his rushing yardage came from "about a 50-50 split in terms of designed (runs) and scrambles."
"Coach McElroy has developed a great offense that is complex for how basic it is," he said. "Having me involved in the running game worked well for our team, because we struggled with it at times. They called a lot of designed read-options for me. There were a lot of times when the (defensive) end would crash and I'd have to pull it."
McElroy has a story about Nolan he likes to tell.
"In all my years of coaching, I did something with Chance I'd never done in all my years of coaching — ever," he said. "We were getting ready to go out on the field before our season opener. I told him, 'I taught you our system through the summer and all the things you need to know, but here's the deal. Trust your instincts and do what you know. Just do what you do and you'll be just fine.'
"I turned him loose. Sometimes quarterbacks need to be spoon-fed at first. But he had such a high level of intelligence, great vision, decision-making off the charts, and his instincts are special."
McElroy's own instincts paid off almost immediately.
"The third play of the game was a pass completion for about 50 yards, and it was a decision that Chance made based on a complex situation," he said. "He had the vision to do it and pull it off. The person watching the game thinks, 'That's a nice pass,' but has no idea all the things what went into the decision to make that pass. But I did. And I thought, 'Man, that was special.'"
Nolan offers an aspect to his game that an Oregon State quarterback hasn't possessed for many years.
"He's kind of like a point guard, distributing the ball," Smith said. "He can move around in the backfield when he needs to. He's an accurate passer, but he's not shy to tuck it away and run.
"He can do what we want from our quarterbacks. He brings more run potential with his athleticism, but we won't change anything with our offense. He fits us well."
Nolan doesn't intend to emulate Michael Vick during his time at Oregon State.
"I definitely prefer to pass the football," Nolan said. "To go to the next level, you have to be an exquisite passer in every aspect. That's the part of my game that I want to fine-tune. Getting the ball in the receiver's hands as accurately as possible is the most important thing for a quarterback.
"Coach Lindgren's system gets you prepared for the NFL. The offensive scheme was another big part for me making this decision (to join the Beavers). I watched all their games this year. I liked everything they did — going under the center sometimes, being able to set up play-action plays. The offense was definitely something that excites me a lot about Oregon State."
Nolan enjoys playing basketball, but he cherishes his time on the gridiron.
"Basketball is one of the most fun sports to get out and play, but I've had the desire to play football since I was 7 years old," he said. "The adrenaline you get when you go out and play — there's nothing like it. I still go into the gym and get shots up and play hoops with my friends, but I love football. "
Especially from the quarterback position.
"I like everything that goes with it — the leadership part," he said. "Everything is on you. You have to be very poised and collected back there. That works well with my demeanor. I think I'm pretty level-headed. I'll be rah-rah at times, but I'm more lead by example."
Since arriving in early January for the start of winter term, Nolan has joined his teammates working out four days a week with OSU's strength and conditioning program. On some days, he'll join the other quarterbacks in throwing routes to the team's receiving corps.
Nolan has gotten to know Tristan Gebbia, a junior-to-be who was backup to starter Jake Luton a year ago. Gebbia performed ably in a season-ending 24-10 Civil War loss at Eugene.
"He's a great guy," Nolan said. "I've known about Tristan since high school. He went to Calabasas (100 miles from Menifee). He has become a great friend. He wants what's best for the team. I've been asking him for help. I'm trying to be a sponge around him. He knows his stuff like the back of his hand. I can tell he's going to be a great teammate."
Nolan also has become acquainted with Ben Gulbranson, the incoming freshman QB from Newbury Park, Calif.
"We've become pretty good friends working out together," Nolan said. "He's a great talent. I've seen him throw the ball. He slings it, and he can run, too. He's a big, athletic kid, with a lot of upside."
Nolan — who has three years to play three at OSU — will begin spring practice behind Gebbia on the depth chart, though Smith doesn't like to phrase it that way.
"Tristan will go with the 'ones' the first day because he's been here, and he deserves that," the third-year OSU coach said. "But Chance will get plenty of reps, too. All the quarterbacks will. We always treat it that way during the spring by giving guys multiple reps and letting them show us what they can do.
"Chance will get his chance to show what he can do. He can play under center. He can make throws in the pocket, and when we want to move the pocket, we can do that with him, too. His biggest thing will be learning the system, the terminology, the timing of everything. He's going to need reps and a summer of (video) study."
Gebbia's experience may make the difference in the quarterback competition, but McElroy isn't going to undersell his guy.
"I don't know what Chase's competition is, but I don't really care," the Saddleback coach said. "I think he's going to be really good at Oregon State. I know he has a good coaching staff. He's highly coachable and very talented."
Asked about individual goals, Nolan demurs.
"I don't want to talk like that, as an individual player," he said. "We have team goals. We want to come out and win the Pac-12. That's a big team goal. That's what everybody in our program is talking about. It's been brewing for a couple of years. For me, I just want to get out here and compete and show the team what I can do."
A month into his time in Corvallis, Nolan said he is sold.
"I'm loving it, just getting involved with the workouts and the coaches," he said. "Coming in and getting settled has been great. I love the people and can sense the good things that are happening with this program."
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