During his senior year in high school, Citadel freshman Ben Dupree had a memorable reading assignment.
The book was "My Losing Season" by Pat Conroy, the famed author's memoir of his senior basketball season at The Citadel.
"The book made it sound like the school was tough," Dupree recalled Sunday at the Bulldogs' football media day. "It told all about the knob year and how hard it is."
So when Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins came to Susquehanna Township High School in Harrisburg, Pa., in search of an option quarterback, Dupree already was well aware of the military school.
"The first time I heard of The Citadel was when they played Florida," Dupree said. "And then I read the book. So when coach Higgins came, I looked into it and The Citadel was the right place for me."
Dupree, 5-9 and 180 pounds, is one of five quarterbacks -- four of them newcomers -- competing for the starting job as the Bulldogs switch to the triple-option offense this season, a battle that will go a long way toward determining the success or failure of Higgins' sixth season at The Citadel.
"Regardless of what offense you are in, the quarterback position is as critical as any," Higgins said Sunday. "The good news is we've got five guys who are competing that have ability. It's just a matter of how quickly they can pick it up."
Meet the quarterbacks:
--Ben Dupree will go down as one of Susquehanna Township's finest athletes, leading the 2009 football team to a 12-2 record and the 2008 basketball team to a 32-3 mark, totaling 80 touchdowns in football and 1,000 points in basketball for his career.
"Ben is extremely quick and has good hand-eye coordination," Higgins said. "Being a quarterback in the triple option is like being a point guard, you have to disperse the ball to other people. He does that extremely well and I think throws the ball better than perhaps I thought he would initially."
--Matt Thompson (6-1, 184), from Ormond, Fla., is the other freshman recruited specifically by Higgins for the triple-option. Like Dupree, he was a two-sport standout at Seabreeze High School, throwing for 2,398 yards and 26 touchdowns and running for 721 yards and nine scores as a senior.
He had a chance to play at Bethune-Cookman, where his father, Lynn, is the athletic director, but said The Citadel "was a better opportunity."
Said Thompson, "My next-door neighbor who used to take me to football practice, Ike Brown, played at The Citadel and told me about the school, told me to check it out. So when Coach Higgins came and I got a look at the academic side of it, I had to jump on the ship."
Higgins noted that Thompson is four inches taller than Dupree and "more of a long-strider. But he has good speed and athleticism, and seems to pick things up, like Ben, extremely well," Higgins said.
--Blane Woodfin (6-0, 190), profiled in Saturday's Post and Courier, is a third newcomer, transferring in as a redshirt sophomore after three semesters at Montana State. He originally signed with Air Force out of high school in Jackson Hole, Wyo., but an irregular heart valve kept him out of the academy.
"Blane was here the entire summer and is a real hard worker," Higgins said. "He tested out real well in all our endurance tests. He'll give you everything he has, and has good speed, not great speed; good quickness, not great quickness. We've got to continue to evaluate his ability to throw the ball; that will be important for him."
--Sam Martin, 6-1 and 205 pounds, is the lone veteran in the group, a redshirt freshman from Traverse City, Mich., who walked on last year. He played high school ball in Florida and Michigan and attended Northwestern Prep School in California before applying to Air Force, the Coast Guard Academy and The Citadel.
"I wasn't planning on playing football, just concentrating on academics," Martin said. "But once I got here, I decided to play football, and I'm glad I did. It helped me get through everything."
With 15 spring practices under his belt, Martin enters the fall as No. 1 on the depth chart.
"If you look at our first two practices, you'd point to Sam and say he's the one who has some experience," Higgins said. "He's worked hard this summer, and he'll have a chance just because of that experience."
--The QB making the biggest adjustment is freshman walk-on Steven Ballentine, who played eight-man football at Wardlaw Academy in Johnston, leading his team to the SCISA state title last year.
"I played 11-man football in a rec league until I was about 16," Ballentine said. "The transition is a bit different, but it's still football. The main thing is learning the triple option after coming from a passing offense in high school."
His father is a 1979 Citadel grad, and Ballentine wanted a chance to continue to play football.
"I love the game, I'm passionate for it," he said. "I'm glad I have this opportunity and I want to capitalize on it."