It wasn’t enough for senior quarterback Tanner Gustavsen to get workouts in with his wide receiver corps this summer.
He wanted to make sure he played catch with each wideout, at least once.
As the biochemistry major takes a part-time credit load this semester, his summer work looked more like a full-time schedule. Along with lifting, jobs and the workouts, the 6-foot-1 quarterback from Boise and the receiving corps forged a work ethic long before fall camp rolled around. A group chat helped the unit find the time to work around all of their schedules, something that was important to Gustavsen. While much is made of who a quarterback’s favorite receiver is, it was more important for Gustavsen to be aware of the intricacies of each of Carroll’s pass catchers. And now, running through plays and studying the playbook have the Saints full of confidence heading into a season where Carroll is aiming to bounce back.
It’s shown early on, too.
In the weeks leading up to the season, all coaches could do was marvel. While the Saints return proven pass catchers and explosive playmakers like Connor Fohn and Troy Arntson, coach Mike Van Diest and offensive coordinator Nick Howlett have both noticed Gustavsen’s synchronization with the younger receivers, like Joe Farris, Paul Hart and Shane Sipes. Gustavsen had taken the lead for the football program, playing the most important position on the field.
“They’re great athletes and they’ve got great hands and they run good routes,” Gustavsen said. “They’re out here every day giving it 100 percent. That’s all you can ask for from receivers. We’re happy with what they’ve done and what they’re doing to do.”
Leadership isn’t a new trait for the QB. Gustavsen has led in different capacities for years. “Once a quarterback, always a quarterback,” the soft-spoken signal caller said.
The summer wasn’t spent learning how to take control of the offense. Gustavsen did that last season in spot duty behind JT Linder. And when Gustavsen was called on to start, he gave the Saints a lift. He saw time in seven of the Saints’ 10 games, throwing for 667 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, while completing 60 percent of his passes. He also finished as the team’s fourth leading rusher, racking up 205 yards running and another four touchdowns.
“I’ve always been a leader,” he said. “This year I am a little bit more vocal and getting guys ready to go and getting guys out here. I’m going to go into the season like I always do and just give it 100 percent and keep everybody’s heads in the games.”
Gustavsen’s best work last season often came as plays were breaking down, situations that called for the athletic quarterback to improvise. While he did it well, he still views himself as more of a pocket passer, electing to scramble only by necessity.
“If I can stay there, I’ll stay there,” he said. “It’s a last resort. I got comfortable doing it in high school. We have a great offensive line, and if they let me sit in the pocket, I’ll sit in the pocket.”
In the pocket or out, Gustavsen’s success will be contingent upon the strength of his line. The unit brings back starter Joel Kramer and all-conference guard Willy Clements, and will have a new face this fall as converted defensive end David Barnett plays tackle.
“They’ve been doing really well,” Gustavsen said. “I think we have a great group of guys led by the centerpiece, Joel Kramer. He’s doing an awesome job. He’s a very vocal guy. He gets them into the right play and right assignment. I’m really excited for them.”
The movement that begins each play in football -- the snap -- should be second nature for Kramer and Gustavsen. The two had their fair share of them last season and have worked well together in practice so far.
Injuries took piled up for the Saints a year ago, and were part of the reason Gustavsen saw the field. With a healthy roster to start the 2017 campaign, Carroll should improve upon an average of 24 points per game last year, which was tied for fifth in the Frontier. Returning for the Saints are tight end Eric Dawson, running back Ryan Walsh, and a host of players who missed game time. Adding it all up, and Gustavsen said the offense should “score a lot of points.”
“Move the ball. Be consistent. That’s the main thing,” he said. “We have to be happy getting five yards a play and nickel-and-dimeing defenses up and down the field. I think we can do that with the players we have. We’ll take the big shots when we have them. Just looking to be consistent this year.”
While Gustavsen looks for consistency, Howlett will be looking to use every inch of the field and terrorize opposing defenses with his schemes.
“The thing that we want to do is execute what we planned to do and be a lot more balanced in our attack,” Howlett said. “We want to be able to utilize all of our weapons. Sometimes that means spreading out the field. We’ve got a great complement of running backs, and the tight end is a big part, and obviously the explosiveness outside with Fohn and some of those receivers. We really want to spread the defense out and use the whole field.”
With depth ahead of the regular season, Howlett likes solving the problem of when and where players should get the ball. The viable options within the offense has the team excited.
“We’ll always take more,” Howlett said of depth. “It is nice. It’s nice when you sit down and you talk as staff offensively, and you talk about who you need to get the ball to and there’s seven or eight names that come up. That’s the beauty of recruiting and that’s getting some of the players we have.”
Looking to get the program back to its lofty expectations -- winning six national championships and 14 Frontier crowns demands excellence -- Gustavsen is an important component that could swing the Saints back into the playoffs, or perhaps trudge through another down year.
With only nine credits, taking classes in theology and personal finance, Gustavsen’s focus is fully on football. It all starts on Aug. 31 against the Frontier’s best (at least last season) in Montana Tech.