Why Luke Altmyer has the guts to win the Ole Miss football QB battle


OXFORD – Don’t forget Luke Altmyer.

Jaxson Dart is the shiny new toy in the Ole Miss quarterback competition. Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss coaching staff handpicked Dart from Southern Cal’s transfer portal. Dart is the one who had five stars next to his name as a rookie. He was the one who helped Kiffin earn the nickname “Portal King”. And, pull, his name is Jaxson Dart. Hollywood screenwriters wouldn’t dare name a quarterback that. It’s too obvious.

But don’t forget Luke Altmyer. Don’t ignore the second from Starkville who came to Ole Miss as the highest-rated Rebels quarterback in the state this century and spent the last year apprenticed under Matt Corral. Don’t confuse calm with resignation to stay safe.

Sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer pitches at Ole Miss spring football training on March 22, 2022.

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“I believe in myself,” Altmyer said. “Really. I understand the nature of the business. But I go to work every day with the belief that I can lead this team.”

The sponge becomes the motor

Altmyer was not surprised that Ole Miss signed Dart. He is not naive. Far from it, in fact. His intelligence and cerebral approach to football are one of his best assets.

Chris Jones, Altmyer’s coach in Starkville, remembers nights when the quarterback would send him movies and play ideas at 1 a.m. Jones knew Altmyer’s ideas would work. That’s the kind of confidence you have in a player who was pushed into the role Altmyer had as a rookie, replacing an injury in the 6A state championship game.

It’s actually an odd parallel to Altmyer’s situation at Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. It was the biggest game of the year and he, a quiet freshman, was the player in charge of leading a huddle.

Starkville quarterback Luke Altmyer (9) throws against Germantown on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, at Germantown High School in Gluckstadt, Miss.

Starkville lost that championship game and Ole Miss lost the Sugar Bowl. Altmyer was put in two impossible situations and couldn’t overcome the impossible each time. But in both situations, he came out the other side more prepared to be the guy for his team. Jones saw this growth once and he sees it again.

“Last year I thought he was walking around and acting like a freshman,” Jones told the Clarion Ledger. “Just a little shy. Now he’s one of the guys. That’s what you usually get from year 1 to year 2, it’s that confidence and those intangible things that people don’t talk about When the guys around you will fight for you or rally for you or do that extra hold for you or dive for you or do that boulder, that’s what makes you the guy at that level.

Altmyer’s father, Chad, also watched his son grow up. Physically, of course. Altmyer has put on some muscle since arriving last spring as a go-to high schooler.

But Altmyer also adjusted his mentality. He knew his role last year, waiting behind Corral as the California kid led the Rebels to 10 wins and remained in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy until his injuries and those of his receivers derailed his chances.

This year, Altmyer is taking a different approach.

“I think he was more of a sponge his freshman year,” Chad Altmyer said. “Now he’s trying to be the engine that keeps the train going. I think it’s just two different Lukes there. One was the Luke who was there to teach and support Matt and I thought that “He had done a fantastic job against Auburn and the Sugar Bowl and Tennessee. He was thrown into fires. But when the time came, even his coaches said, ‘He’s a Luke we didn’t know existed.’

The Altmyer that has always existed

Altmyer’s parents knew he was a special player when he was 7 years old. Altmyer set the city record for touchdown passes in a season in the 7-8 league.

From there, Altmyer’s talent continues to soar. He chose the game on his own. His father played baseball and basketball at Mississippi College, but football found Altmyer. Mike Norvell, then a coach at Memphis, offered Altmyer a scholarship when he was a freshman in high school. At that time, Altmyer did not have a personal quarterbacks trainer or any other high-level training that most prospects receive.

January 1, 2022;  New Orleans, LA, USA;  Mississippi Rebels quarterback Luke Altmyer (7) scrambles against Baylor Bears linebacker Garmon Randolph (55) during the first half of the 2022 Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome.  Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew - USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t until his second year that former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead linked Chad Altmyer with David Morris at QB Country, a nationally recognized coaching operation in Mobile, in Alabama. Altmyer was friends in high school with Moorhead’s son, and Moorhead informed the Altmyers that Morris’s guardianship could help skyrocket their son’s potential.

“My wife took Luke to see David Morris and he practiced that day and I talked to David that night and he was like ‘Dude you got something here’ and I said ‘Really? He’s good?'”, admits Chad Altmyer. “It kind of took me by surprise.”

Chad Altmyer said the emotion of watching his son’s accomplishments usually comes in three waves. First, there is fear. Football is a scary sport for a parent. Second, there is the surprise: “Luke really does it. It is good. Then the third is the feeling of “duh”.

“There’s the emotion of ‘Why am I surprised? He’s been doing this his whole life,'” Chad Altmyer said.

Case in point: Altmyer was invited to attend the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in 2020. The camp was scaled back due to COVID-19 precautions, but it was still an opportunity for top quarterback rookies of the country to come together and throw the ball.

Chad Altmyer remembers showing up to a tournament with his wife and son and meeting high-profile recruits like Caleb Williams (now at USC) and JJ McCarthy (Michigan). He was amazed at how high school quarterbacks had entourages of coaches and personal trainers by their side.

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“And we were like, ‘It’s just us. Good luck Luke!'” Chad Altmyer said. “After that first day he was really, really good and competed at a high level. Luke never held back. So it was really great to see him compete against those guys.”

On February 3, 2020, Altmyer signed on to play for Norvell at Florida State. Altmyer remained engaged there until 30 November. Four days later, Altmyer signed on to play for Ole Miss.

A year later, the quarterback who was only the second Mississippian to be an Elite 11 and Under Armor All-American quarterback became the first Mississippi native to throw for a Sugar Bowl touchdown since Jason Campbell of Auburn 17 years ago.

About this sugar bowl

Corral hurt his ankle two minutes from the end of the first quarter of the Sugar Bowl. After a missed field goal from the Rebels and a Baylor four-and-out, Altmyer trotted downfield early in the second quarter.

He led 10 drives, passing 15 on 28 for 174 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions, one came back for a Baylor touchdown and was sacked seven times.

Kiffin called Ole Miss’s overall offensive performance in the Sugar Bowl one of the worst he’s ever coached. Jones called Altmyer’s performance average. Chad Altmyer can’t help but wonder how things would have been different if a reverse pass or two or missed blocks had gone the other way.

Luke Altmyer is his own harshest critic. He said in early spring that he still thinks about or watches Sugar Bowl movies almost every day. He replays certain situations, correcting the ghosts that haunt him.

But it was a game. Against a team with a top-five defense that finished fifth in FBS in sacks. And he was a freshman, who so far had thrown nine varsity passes for a total of 18 yards.

What matters most is what Altmyer does next.

The competition

Dart committed to Ole Miss on Jan. 29, four weeks after Altmyer’s Sugar Bowl screening.

A month into Ole Miss’ spring training, it doesn’t look like either quarterback has an advantage. Dart made more flashy plays, but it also made a lot more mistakes. Altmyer lacks Dart’s good sense, but his consistency and comfort in the scheme translated into smooth possessions and big wins in scrums.

The sad reality is that most college football teams only carry one alpha into the quarterback room. The players know it. Coaches know it too.

Jones told the Clarion Ledger he had “dozens of coaches” asking if Altmyer was going to enter the transfer portal. Jones checked with Altmyer and then told the coaches what his former student told him.

“His thing was, ‘I’m going to stay and compete,'” Jones said. “Which didn’t surprise me because that’s just who he is. His thing is that the cream will rise to the top. It doesn’t shock me. I think he’s a quarterback of the SEC. I think he’ll do the job.”

To their credit, Altmyer and Dart became fast friends. For two 19-year-olds, they are handling this situation well. Altmyer was one of the first people to contact Dart when he arrived in Mississippi.

He does not see the competition as an outsider coming to take his job. It’s just… competition. It’s a chance to improve and prove what he can do. Not just to people who already know. But also to the people he represents.

“He was raised that way, to represent your family, your name and your state as best you can,” Chad Altmyer said. “I think he appreciates that he can do it. He brings a great face to college and to Mississippi as well. I think he’s proud of it. I know he does it. And I know that he wants to do it in everything, not just in football.”

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or [email protected] Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.


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