JACKSONVILLE — The last time Jacksonville State fans saw their most experienced quarterback play in a game, he was limping off the field on a bad knee uncertain if he would play again this season.
Well, Max Shortell is back and he sounds eager to get on with the business of leading the Gamecocks’ offense through this most important stretch of the season.
The junior quarterback has been on the mend since spraining his right knee against Tennessee State on Oct. 12 — the last time the Gamecocks played at home.
He has been steadily working his way back into the mix and on Monday JSU head coach Bill Clark said he expects Shortell to be “ready to go, 100 percent” for Saturday’s showdown with Eastern Kentucky.
Shortell was in no position to argue.
“I feel really good at this point,” he said. “I kind of had my own personal bye weeks, so I’m feeling really fresh for these last three games.
“Whenever you get hurt you want to get back as soon as possible. Usually, you have a target date set in mind. This one was important for me to get back. Personally, I always want to play like last Saturday, but going into this game it was real important I get myself as healthy as possible.”
Shortell was on quite a roll at the time he got hurt. He had thrown for at least 225 yards in each of the previous three games and even showed some scrambling ability on a game-changing conversion at Tennessee-Martin.
Had he played in enough games to qualify, he would rank sixth in the OVC in passing efficiency (126.4) and third in passing yards a game (191.2).
The injury happened early in the second half of the TSU game. While it proved not to be as severe as initially thought and did not require surgery, Shortell did undergo some intense rehabilitation.
In the interim the Gamecocks have had an open date, lost backup Eli Jenkins to sore ribs and have played the last six and a half quarters with No. 3 Kyle West directing the offense.
West quarterbacked the Gamecocks to two victories, completing 29 of 47 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns along the way, a 134.01 passer rating. Shortell was in uniform and went through warm-ups in both games, but did not play.
Clark said Shortell and Jenkins could have played last week, but it wasn’t necessary given the way the game flowed and West was playing. The Gamecocks opened a 28-7 halftime lead and won 42-10.
Now, all three quarterbacks will be available for what has turned into the Gamecocks’ biggest game of the year. It will be a few days before Clark names the starter.
“Injuries are just one thing we can’t prevent, so thank the Lord we’ve had these other guys where they’ve done a good job,” he said. “Now we’ve kind of got all our options open to see what happens.
“We want to embody the guy who does the most things well, but we’re going to have a package for other guys. I think it’ll all be who has a good week of practice.”
The game carries a lot of significance for the Gamecocks (7-2, 3-2).
Beating the Colonels (6-3, 4-1) will put them squarely back into NCAA playoff consideration, a prospect that looked dim at the time Shortell got hurt. The Sports Network this week has projected Eastern Illinois and EKU has the OVC’s two playoff representatives, but a JSU win likely would leapfrog the Gamecocks into EKU’s slot.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.