Looking at FAU’s season from a macro level, two handoffs at the end of a blowout win over Bethune-Cookman will barely register as a footnote.
To that young quarterback, however, those two handoffs dialed up by coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis signified an accomplishment, and perhaps the start of something great.
“It was cool,” said redshirt freshman Nick Tronti, who transferred to FAU from Indiana over the summer. “I was obviously really thankful that coach Weis and coach Kiffin gave me the opportunity to go in, even just to hand the ball at the end of the game. There are some guys who never play a down in college, so I was glad to check that one off the bucket list.”
Florida’s 2016 Mr, Football out of Ponte Vedra High School in the Jacksonville area Tronti signed with Indiana out of high school and spent last season with the Hoosiers.
One year away from his home state made Tronti realize he wanted to be closer to home and his family.
“I think, I guess looking back, I wish I would have, I guess, spent a little more time thinking about where I wanted to spend my next four years,” Tronti said. “Mainly I just wanted to be closer to home. That’s the biggest thing I wanted to get accomplished when I changed schools.”
FAU recruited Tronti during the Charlie Partridge era. When Lane Kiffin took over, the Owls didn’t renew their pursuit of the dual threat QB until only a few weeks remained until Signing Day.
By that point Tronti had already decided to sign with Indiana, but the renewed attention from FAU left an impression.
FAU entered fall camp with former Florida St. Seminole De’Andre Johnson and former Oklahoma Sooner Chris Robison battling for the quarterback job. Shortly after Tronti’s decision to join the Owls became public Rafe Peavey transferred from SMU to FAU as a graduate student.
Tronti didn’t realize so many quality quarterbacks would be on this year’s roster, but adds that such knowledge wouldn’t have affected his decision either way.
“Honestly, the biggest thing for me was that I was coming to a place where I was comfortable,” Tronti said. “Obviously, everybody wants to be the guy but I wasn’t saying like, Oh I can go here and play right away. I wanted to find a place where I was comfortable. The number of quarterbacks on the depth chart here didn’t matter as long as they gave me an opportunity.”
The NCAA requires nearly all undergraduate players transferring from one FBS school to another sit out a season, but a waiver process exists that can grant immediate eligibility. Usually such a grant is made if there is a health concern for either the athlete or a member of his family, the athlete must take responsibility to care for a family member, the original school discontinued the player’s major or the player is returning from at least 12 months of military service.
Tronti won his appeal, granting him immediate eligibility.
“I felt like I had a shot,” Tronti said of his expectations when filing for the waiver. “I’m not going to get into specifics about it because it went through compliance.”
Even after transferring, Tronti missed nearly all of fall camp with an undisclosed injury.
Tronti attends all of the quarterback meetings, preparing as though he’s going to play for the Owls that week. But for most of his first season at FAU, Tronti has been running the scout team, much like current starting quarterback Robison did last season. Robison noted that scout team quarterbacks often struggle to learn their own team’s offense because they spend so much time mimicking each week’s opponent.
During practices a graduate assistant will often relay which play they want the scout team to run, giving the starting defense the opportunity to prepare for plays they’ll see on Saturday.
“How you approach being on scout team and how much better you get is up to you,” Tronti said. “If you just go up there, look at the card and throw the ball wherever you want you’re not going to get any better. If you’re actually trying to think to yourself what kind of defense are they playing, maybe check with one of the GAs – say, hey, what coverage were they in last play? – to see if you were right, that’s how I approach it every day.”
Tronti realizes it’s unlikely he’ll see much more game action this season, so for the moment his work with the scout team will have to suffice.
But Tronti also believes he has what it takes to play quarterback at the FBS level.
“I think I bring leadership,” Tronti said. “I’m a guy that, I take pride in how hard I work. I try to be the first one in the building every day. I try and just work as hard as I possibly can and help the team in whatever way they ask me to.”