Stone Earle didn't appear out of nowhere. He's been working for this opportunity the entire time.

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Eric Morris was asked Tuesday if there was a notable difference in Stone Earle's game from spring football practice to fall camp. After all, Earle had been the longshot third option among outsiders looking in to win North Texas's three-man quarterback battle. Morris brought in former Mansfield Lake Ridge star Chandler Rogers in via the transfer portal in January after he started for two seasons at UL-Monroe. Jace Ruder played in eight games just two years ago. Earle, on the other hand, had thrown eight total passes in 2022.

So how did the 6-foot, 207-pound signal caller grab the starting nod? What had he most improved?

"We could talk a lot about that," Morris said.

No one ever questioned his athleticism. The issue in the spring was that he couldn't reel in the fire hose that was his right arm, rifling uncatchable bullet passes from five yards away. He was trying to learn the ins and outs of Morris's Air Raid offense, which placed much more responsibility on his shoulders than he felt last season, when he was used primarily as a wildcat quarterback. The game was moving too fast.

Since the NCAA prohbits team practices in the summer, Earle came to the facility to talk with offensive coordinator Sean Brophy in his office. Brophy, a former quarterback for Morris at Incarnate Word in 2017 and 2018, knew how to relate the offense to Earle, having been in his shoes so recently. Then, on his own time, Earle rewatched all the plays from spring football on his iPad. He started to understand the checks and audibles he needed to make pre-snap in Morris's scheme. Once the fall rolled around, he'd generated confidence from his preparation and was throwing with touch.

That's why Stone Earle will jog onto the field with the first-string offense come Saturday against Cal. 

"Stone was a guy that would come in here and meet with Coach Brophy and ask these questions," Morris said. "If we couldn’t help him with it, he’d find someone to do it and he’d put in the work."

He put in the work because he knew that's what it would take to win a quarterback battle. After all, it wasn't the first he's won.

Before he was the all-district quarterback leading Birdville High School with 67 touchdowns passes and a 21–6 record in two full seasons as the starter, he was a young sophomore who had to wait his turn after senior quarterback Skylar Noble moved into town. When he lost out on the job, he put his head down and worked until he was called upon mid-season. He never relinquished the position.

But college brought more adversity to overcome. After tossing for 1,216 yards and a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio in 2021 at Abilene Christian, Earle transferred to North Texas in hopes of competing for the starting job in 2022. Instead, he was often relegated to third on the depth chart behind Ruder and last year's starter, Austin Aune. Ahead of his first offseason with Morris, for the second time in his life, a new guy moved in with a clearer path to the starting job in Rogers.

“There were some tough times being on scout team," Earle said. "But all the time that you’re sitting there (you have to) keep grinding. One day, you’re going to get that shot.”

His father, John, instilled that positive mindset in Earle. John was a professional offensive linemen from 1992-96, bouncing from the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams. While he doubled as a receiver so his son could get some extra work in the yard during high school, he told the young quarterback he couldn't get anywhere in life unless he worked for it. He'd played at the highest level possible. He knew what it took.

"I told myself I got to do something every day to be special in this league and anywhere in life," Earle said. "You have to find something to do extra, every day."

Earle is the starter now, but Rogers will still get playing time in week one. Morris said both guys handled the decision with first-class attitude. It helps they'll be throwing to what Earle calls the best receiving group he's been with. Roderic Burns has compiled 1,478 yards in the past two seasons from the slot position and Ja'Mori Maclin returns after making the All-Freshman Conference USA team. Trey Cleveland, who spent four years at Texas Tech, is an intriguing newcomer who should see plenty of receptions this year.

Burns made it clear Tuesday that Earle has the backing of the receiver room. They've honed in their chemistry in competing against defensive coordinator Matt Caponi's three-high safety look in practice and getting in extra work when the final whistle blows.

“He’s a very hard worker even when he wasn’t in the QB1 position," Burns said. "He always wants to get a couple of guys to throw afterwards.”

In fact, the entire team showed they were behind Earle when they nominated him as a captain for the 2023 season. The signal caller proved this offseason he could hold himself accountable, now it's time to prove he can hold others accountable, too.

"I’m excited to see him take over a leadership role," Morris said. "He was voted a team captain last week that’s 100 percent voted on by our players. So it just shows you what our guys think about him.”

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