Back in November 2009, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins made a momentous decision. He would abandon the pass-heavy spread offense for the run-oriented triple option.
Only problem — he needed a fast quarterback to run the new offense. And he needed him fast.
A friend who runs a recruiting service in Pittsburgh showed Higgins a highlight tape of a “little guy in Harrisburg.”
The little guy was 5-9 Ben Dupree, now a junior and the starting quarterback for the 3-0 Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 10 in FCS and travel to North Carolina State on Saturday.
“I saw how quick he was,” Higgins recalled, “and I got in my car and drove three hours from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, over the mountains and through the snow.”
That highlight tape has played a key role in Dupree’s career. It got him to The Citadel, and it earned him a second chance at the starting position after he blew his first one.
Dupree first earned the starting role as a freshman in 2010, beating out fellow knob Matt Thompson. But when the Bulldogs’ new option attack stalled in the season opener against lowly Chowan, Dupree was benched. Thompson came on to throw three touchdown passes in a 56-14 victory.
Just like that, Thompson was the starting QB and Dupree was switched to running back.
“That was definitely frustrating,” Dupree says now. “But I brought it on myself. I stunk up the joint, and Matt did his thing. I was highly disappointed in myself.”
But as the Bulldogs lost six of their last seven games, Higgins could not get that highlight tape of Dupree’s exploits at Susquehanna Township High School out of his head.
“I kept thinking about that tape and the plays he was making,” Higgins said. “I told our coaches, ‘I think we made a mistake by not keeping Ben at quarterback. I don’t think we can find another quarterback that can do what I’ve seen him do on film.’ ”
Dupree moved to quarterback for the final two games of the 2010 season, and has shared time with Aaron Miller last year and this season.
In last week’s 52-28 shocker at Appalachian State, Dupree made some plays to equal his high school highlights. He rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns, on sprints of 57 and 46 yards.
“I never thought I’d see a Citadel player out-running App State players,” Higgins said. “But that’s what Ben did.”
Dupree’s confidence never wavered through his first two years, because he was used to winning. His high school football team won 12 games his senior year, and his basketball team went 32-3.
But he’s had to learn to share QB duties with Miller, a sophomore from Clover. Dupree has rushed this season for 349 yards and four touchdowns to 57 yards and one TD for Miller. But Miller has hit 9 of 13 passes for 206 yards, compared with 3 of 8 for 82 yards and one score for Dupree. Together, the pair ranks first in the Southern Conference in passing efficiency.
“We feed off each other,” Dupree said. “We both have confidence in each other. A lot of times, my weaknesses are his strengths. He’s a better passer and I’m a little faster. We’re two different kinds of quarterbacks, so it works out great.”
Higgins said both quarterbacks are team-first guys.
“If one of them didn’t have the personality they have, we might not be able to do it,” he said. “But they are both unselfish and respect the skill set the other guy has. Bottom line, they both want to win.”
And winning, Dupree knows, is the ultimate highlight.
Citadel linebacker Carson Smith was named Southern Conference student-athlete of the week on Wednesday. Smith had seven tackles, an interception and a touchdown in last week’s win at App State. He has a 3.9 GPA in electrical engineering. ... All-SoCon defensive tackle Derek Douglas, who tore an ACL in spring practice, returned to full-contact practice this week, but is not expected to play at N.C. State. Slotback Dalton Trevino, who hurt his knee in the season opener, also returned to practice, but also is unlikely to play against the Wolfpack.