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A South Carolina GA is now competing for the starting QB job

Zeb Noland left North Dakota State for South Carolina to begin his coaching career. Now he's back in pads, days away from possibly playing as an SEC quarterback.

Ninety nine point nine percent of all coaches get into the business because their desire to keep playing has outlived their skills, and coaching is the next best thing to playing.

For one GA, the dream lives on just a little bit longer.

South Carolina has pulled graduate assistant Zeb Noland out of his coaches' polo and into a set of pads. The 24-year-old is no longer training the Gamecocks' starting quarterback because he might be the Gamecocks' starting quarterback. 

How we got here: Colin Hill started most of last season for South Carolina but graduated. Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina's 2019 starter as a freshman, appeared in just two games last fall and transferred to Northwestern (where he's now a backup). That left Luke Doty as the only Gamecock QB with game experience, all of 71 passes in eight games as a freshman in 2020. 

Doty entered camp as the expected starter but sprained his foot on Friday. That left fifth-year senior Jason Brown, a transfer from FCS St. Francis; Connor Jordan, a walk-on with no game experience; and true freshman Colten Gauthier. 

Clearly, the South Carolina staff wasn't overwhelmed with their options behind Doty, so they exchanged Noland's headset for a helmet.  

“He’s going to compete like everyone else,” Shane Beamer told the Charlotte Observer. “If he deserves the opportunity to play and can help us win football games, he will. And if he can’t, he won’t.”

Noland has been in college football since the prehistoric time of 2016, when he signed with Iowa State as a 3-star recruit out of Watkinsville, Ga. He redshirted his first season on campus, then started a game in 2017 but mostly backed up senior Kyle Kempt. 

Noland entered 2018 as the expected starter and threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma, but left the Oklahoma State game that October with an ankle injury and found himself Wally Pipped. Brock Purdy took the Cyclones' QB1 job and never gave it back -- he's still Iowa State's starting quarterback, in fact.

Noland transferred to North Dakota State, thinking he'd find immediate playing time at the FCS level. Instead, he found himself standing behind Trey Lance. He threw 14 passes in eight games behind the eventual No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft, collected a ring and continued biding his time. 

Finally, in the spring of 2020, Noland earned consistent playing time -- but, frankly, he didn't play that well. Completing 51 of his 100 passes with six interceptions against five touchdowns, Bison coaches played freshman Cam Miller down the stretch. 

Noland could've played again in 2021, but instead decided to move on to his next chapter in life. He tweeted this the day the Bison fell to Sam Houston in the FCS quarterfinals.

And now here he is, possibly days away from facing Eastern Illinois as South Carolina's starting quarterback.