WEST LONG BRANCH – The quarterback position is without question the most critical position on a football team to get right.
Recruiting a quarterback out of high school tends to be a bit of a crapshoot that can have lasting negative consequences on a college football program if the committed player fails to live up to expectations.
Conversely, if a program hits on a quarterback commit who is as good or better than advertised it’s like winning the lottery.
During the class of 2020 recruiting cycle Monmouth University hit the jackpot when West Springfield, Virginia High School quarterback Tony Muskett committed to the Hawks in July of 2019 prior to his senior season.
Muskett, recruited by then passing game coordinator/QB coach T.J. DiMuzio, made it official during the early signing period on December 18, 2019 following a stellar senior campaign which saw him pass for 1,853 yards while completing 64 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for an additional 785 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 9.5 yards per carry.
Following his senior season Muskett was a first team All-Conference and first team All-District selection. A three-year starter at West Springfield, Muskett threw for 4,687 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushed for 1,686 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career as a Spartan.
While at West Springfield Muskett’s head coach was Anthony Parker. “I love coach Parker,” Muskett said of his former coach. “He was a great coach and it wasn’t just about football with him. He really cared about you as a person and looked out for you.”
Parker was very familiar with the Muskett name before Tony even took a snap for the Spartans.
“Tony’s brother, Peter, was a three-year starter for us and we knew once Peter graduated Tony was going to be our guy for the next three years,” said Parker. “We knew what we had in Tony and we were going to be in good hands with him. Even as a sophomore, Tony was a leader and played way beyond his years. After his junior year he had matured so much at the position. He was so comfortable back there and could make all the throws. He just did so many good things by then I just knew he could play D1 football.”
Muskett has high praise for his former quarterback coach at West Springfield, David Bahta. “It was great having a mentor like coach Bahta. He had all the quarterback knowledge I could ever need and he taught me so much about playing quarterback. I credit him for a lot of what I’m doing today.”
Bahta knew Muskett was special early in his sophomore season. “In week four of his sophomore year we traveled to play the state champions and although we didn’t win the game he by far looked like the best player on the field. Running, throwing, toughness, leadership, he was just ready for the moment and it was then I realized we had someone not just special on this level but someone who could be special at the next level. He just had all the intangibles – vision, awareness, anticipation. By his junior year he was the best player on offense and defense and he barley even practiced on defense.”
Bahta’s respect for Muskett goes way deeper than what he does on the playing field.
“I can’t say enough about Tony as a person,” said Bahta. “He’s one of the hardest working players I’ve met. Never, ever had to worry about issues off the field, great student, never missed a practice over the four years as a West Springfield football player and although it was his team he just made it about everybody else and not himself when clearly everyone was always coming to see him.
“I’ve always been very high on Tony,” added Bahta. “I’ll be honest, the amount of success he’s had so fast and that he hasn’t even scratched his ceiling yet is just so impressive. I definitely knew he would be able to succeed at the colligate level but how fast he did it is really something. He looks so comfortable in the pocket now - he’s just a really good football player.”
The 6-foot-2, 195 pound Muskett choose Monmouth over Coastal Carolina and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, with both those schools heavily in pursuit of his services.
“It was pretty hectic traveling around to different campuses for visits,” Muskett said of his recruiting process. “I took a couple visits and it just felt like family here. I remember I came here and coach Gallo (offensive coordinator/TE coach Jeff Gallo) was barbecuing for all the players and I never saw that anywhere else. So mainly, I came here and it just felt like home with a family aspect and the culture was just right so I knew it was the right place for me.”
The feeling is mutual. Monmouth is thrilled to have Muskett as the face of the program and with two years left for Muskett at Monmouth the feeling among coaches it that the best is yet to come.
“He means everything to this team,” head coach Kevin Callahan said of Muskett. “He’s a guy who not only has great ability but demonstrates a tremendous amount of leadership. He’s a guy that we know we can put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and he’s going to come through. He has all the physical skills, the demeanor and carries himself well out there with a high level of maturity for a guy his age. We’re really excited about Tony and his impact on the program.”
During his freshman year at Monmouth in 2020, Covid wiped out the Big South’s fall football season but it was eventually replaced with a truncated spring season.
In preseason camp that spring, Muskett battled senior quarterback Max Smyth for the starting job and the competition was neck and neck right up to the final week before Callahan named Smyth the starter citing his experience in Monmouth’s offense.
However, Smyth sustained an injury just prior to the Hawks opening game with Charleston Southern and Muskett was handed the reins as a true freshman.
Muskett’s first game as a colligate quarterback got off to a rousing start. On the first offensive possession of his career as a Hawk he connected with Terrance Greene Jr. for a 70-yard touchdown and went on to lead the Hawks to a 35-17 win over the Buccaneers. He completed 18-of-26 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns and he hasn’t looked back since.
Muskett’s auspicious start was a sign of things to come as he guided the Hawks to a 3-0 record, including a 42-17 win over Kennesaw State which clinched the Big South championship and with it an automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs.
Monmouth was paired up with second-seed Sam Houston State – ranked fifth nationally – in the first round and were considered heavy underdogs.
Trailing 21-0 in the fourth quarter, Muskett engineered two scoring drives to pull the Hawks to within 21-15. His 30-yard scoring strike to Green Jr. pulled them within six points with just under six minutes to play.
Starting at their own 25-yard line with just over four minutes remaining in the game, Muskett drove the Hawks down to the 9-yard line but on fourth-and-goal with seconds remaining he was picked off ending Monmouth’s upset bid.
Sam Houston then went on to win the NCAA FCS national championship.
In a valiant effort, Muskett finished the game completing 29-of-46 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions – his only two interceptions of the season.
For the year, he was 80-of-128 for 1039 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions in four games. Following the season he was named the Big South Freshman of the Year, first team All-Big South, finished fifth in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award (Nation’s Top FCS Freshman), Hero Sports Freshman All-American honoree and his 150.9 pass efficiency rating was ranked 10th in the NCAA FCS.
Monmouth finished ranked 10th in the AFCA and Athlon final national polls – the highest season-ending ranking in program history.
The Hawks had a bit of an up-and-down season in the fall of 2021 going 7-4 and losing to Kennesaw State in the de facto Big South championship game. However, Muskett, firmly entrenched as the starter now, had another outstanding season but was disappointed with the way it ended.
“That left a sour taste in our mouths,” said Muskett of the loss. “We don’t necessarily want to forget that loss. Those are the learning points that we want to take from it and build on it this season. All that stuff we might not have done well last year we want to improve on so that we’re flawless this year. I think we’re doing that so far and I’m excited about the upcoming season.”
He finished the fall 2021 season with 2651 yards passing and 25 touchdown with just six interceptions completing 239-of-367 passes (65.1%) and a 145.0 passing efficiency rating in 11 games.
A first team All-Big South selection for the second straight year and a sophomore All-American pick by Hero Sports, Muskett’s 25 touchdown passes is the second most in school history and he led a Monmouth offense that was ranked the top scoring offense in the country at 32 points per game. He was 13th in the country in passing completion percentage (65.1) and led the Big South in four passing categories.
Muskett Set To Show Off New Monmouth Offense
Following a rigorous offseason workout regimen Muskett’s arm appears even stronger and he has looked sharp in spring practice while exuding added confidence. He’s had to make some adjustments with his former quarterback coach T.J. DiMuzio having left Monmouth to become Lafayette’s offensive coordinator/quarterback coach.
The Hawks brought in former FDU-Madison head coach Jimmy Robertson as the new quarterback coach/pass game coordinator and the transition appears to have gone smoothly. Robertson was the 2021 Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Football Coach of the Year when his offense set over 30 program records.
“I love coach DiMuzio he was a huge part of my success here, obviously, but he got the offensive coordinator job at Lafayette so I’m super happy for him. Luckily for me we have a great staff and we hired coach Robertson. I love coach Robertson, he brought in some great new pass concepts that you’re going to see this fall. And I just love the way he coaches too. He’s always positive with a great attitude and he keeps me motivated. We’ve already developed a great relationship.”
Monmouth’s three top receivers from a year ago – accounting for 146 receptions for 1705 yards and 13 touchdowns - graduated, but Muskett has total confidence in his current receiving corps.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys with ridiculous speed,” said Muskett. “I think we’re a really talented group and I think our chemistry is just going to be crazy. And after working with the guys for a full winter, spring and summer it’s going to show in the fall. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat, I’m really confident in my guys.”
Callahan has seen significant growth in Muskett and expects even bigger things out of his signal caller.
“One of the areas Tony wanted to develop throughout the offseason going into the spring was his overall leadership of the team,” said Callahan. “That’s something he’s taken a significant step forward with. Not only is he showing leadership in his play and his actions but he’s also becoming more vocal. As a younger guy in years past he might’ve been a little reluctant to do it but I think he understands that that’s part of being the offensive leader as the quarterback. He definitely has everyone’s respect and his work ethic is unmatched. He’s had a great winter in terms of training and conditioning and I think it’s showing out here this spring – he’s really throwing some good balls. When he’s out there you can tell he’s in charge and they know he’s going to do some really good things.”
Monmouth wraps up its spring camp on Saturday, April 23, 2022 with the annual Blue/White Showcase set to begin at 1:00 p.m. at Kessler Stadium.