Dallas Sealey wasn’t born in Texas. And, unlike the familiar aphorism, he didn’t even get here as fast as he could.
But the redshirt sophomore quarterback from Lawton, Okla., has a name and game that seem ripped from the fiction section of a Lone Star library: a quick-footed, rocket-armed passer, given his handle because his parents love the Dallas Cowboys.
Things with Sealey are about to get very non-fiction. Saturday, he leads Abilene Christian University into battle against the Air Force Academy. It won’t be the first game he has started for the Wildcats. That was late last year against Southland Conference champion McNeese State University in a game MSU eked out, 15-13, despite Sealey’s career-high 284 yards passing – the most the mighty McNeese defense surrendered to any QB during its unbeaten regular season.
But this will be Sealey’s first start since ACU head coach Ken Collums named him the No. 1 QB after spring practice. The physical tools are obvious. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Sealey, who threw 16 touchdowns his senior year on the gridiron at Lawton High and once struck out 17 batters as a pitcher, can make all the throws asked of him in the Wildcat playbook and could be the best running QB Collums has ever had at ACU.
A player can earn a spot start for any number of reasons, such as an injury to the usual first-string player or because a coach wants to shake up the status quo. But assuming the starting job for good is another story.
“The nerves haven’t kicked in yet,” Sealey says, “but they will. I’m so excited. I have been working hard for this.”
As a former national-championship-winning QB, himself, Collums understands Sealey’s nerves and believes they are justified.
“There’s a different pressure, a different heaviness on a quarterback’s shoulder (as the No. 1 starter),” Collums said.
The shoulders upon which Collums has placed his trust as season-opening starting QB since he became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2005 and head coach in 2012 are as follows: Billy Malone, Zach Stewart, Mitchell Gale, John David Baker, Parker McKenzie and now Sealey. For Malone, Baker and McKenzie, it was their first starts overall. Stewart and Gale – like Sealey – had started games the previous season.
The results of those first starts as the No. 1 range from solid to spectacular, depending on the individual’s experience and the team’s opponent. Malone was a freshman transfer from Tulane University when he got the nod in the 2005 season opener. In a 49-37 loss to Central Oklahoma University, Malone completed just 15 of 34 passes but made most of them count: 294 yards and three touchdowns. One was a 92-yard TD toss, tying the longest in Wildcat history. He went on to become a four-year starter and ACU’s and the Lone Star Conference’s all-time leading passer.
After starting (and winning) two games in relief of an injured Malone in 2008, Abilene native Stewart emerged as the No. 1 QB to begin the 2009 season and was part of a 19-14 victory over Northwest Missouri State University that was televised on CBS Sports Network. But Gale, a redshirt freshman, became the starter midway through that year and helped the Wildcats reach the playoffs.
Gale was the clear No. 1 in 2010 and proved himself worthy, leading ACU to its first-ever 11-0 record. He began the season with a near-perfect performance – 24 of 30, three touchdowns, no interceptions – in a 34-26 Wildcat win. (It didn’t hurt that his teammates that day included future NFL players Daryl Richardson, Clyde Gates and Taylor Gabriel.) Gale started 42 straight games and supplanted Malone as the ACU and LSC career leader in passing yards.
Baker was a fifth-year senior when he finally got his chance to start, and he made up for lost time. In ACU’s first game as a transitional Division I member, Baker threw a Wildcat-record seven TD passes in an 84-6 rout of tiny Concordia University from Alabama in what, incredibly, wasn’t even the worst day of the Hornets’ season. (That came two weeks later when the Concordia team bus caught fire and burned to the ground with all the equipment inside. No one was injured. The university disbanded the program late last year.)
Against a hodgepodge schedule including one FBS and five FCS foes, Baker set an ACU mark with 40 total TDs (35 passing and five rushing).
In 2014, the Wildcats scheduled a full slate of Division I games, beginning with a nationally televised battle on ESPNU against Georgia State University in the Georgia Dome. Playing in front of friends and family in his native Atlanta, then-sophomore McKenzie was 30 of 40 for 403 yards and four TD passes against a lone interception in a nail-biter that GSU won, 38-37, on a last-second field goal.
Sealey’s turn comes Saturday against what may well be the most talented and tradition-rich team any ACU team has ever played and perhaps the most awe-inspiring environment: Falcon Stadium with its nearly 50,000 seats, pregame flyovers and stunning view of the Rocky Mountains. The home team on the field isn’t bad either. Deploying its trademark triple option rushing attack that belies the Academy’s name, Air Force has been to 25 bowl games, eight in the last nine seasons. Fisher DeBerry commanded the cadets for more than 20 years, taking them to within a game of a perfect season and the chance to play for the national championship. Current head coach Troy Calhoun took over in 2007 and has a record of 67-50, which includes the Mountain West Conference’s 2015 Mountain Division title and 12 straight wins at home.
Fairer tests for Sealey begin a week from Saturday against another Centennial State squad, University of Northern Colorado – like ACU, an FCS program – which visits Shotwell Stadium on Sept. 10. Then the Wildcats close out the month with in-state road games against Southland Conference opponents Houston Baptist University and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
So while no one necessarily expects Sealey to go off in the wild blue yonder of Air Force this weekend, September should at least begin to tell us whether the sky is indeed the limit for ACU’s newest No. 1.