When Eastern Kentucky Coach Dean Hood says of T.J. Pryor, "We're not going to have to put the whole game on him like we have had to the last two years," that's music to the quarterback's ears.
"Hearing that a lot of pressure is going to be off my shoulders is always a great thing to hear," Pryor said.
A junior, Pryor already has 20 starts under his belt.
Out of Ballard High School, he became Freshman of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2009, when he passed for 2,153 yards and six touchdowns despite beginning the season as a reserve.
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As a sophomore, he became the first quarterback to lead EKU in rushing (505 yards, nine touchdowns) since 1963, while passing for 1,613 yards and 12 TDs.
With an offensive line that returns four of five starters, talent at all the skill positions and a mature quarterback, Hood thinks he has a well-balanced attack.
Pryor, a 6-foot-2, 193-pounder, simply plays the most important position.
"It starts with him," Hood said. "Getting the ball in the hands of the right people, managing the game, making good decisions."
Hood has watched Pryor grow. Step one, the coach says, was being talented. Step two was learning the offense. Step three — understanding that offense in context with your teammates' talents — is where Pryor has arrived.
"Being so young when I first started, I guess I was kind of rushing things and still trying to get used to the speed of the game, because everything was way much faster than high school," he said. "Over the years, just maturing and the game slowing down is helping me make better decisions and helping me manage the game better for my team. I believe it will help our offense drive the ball down the field and help our defense out a lot more."
With backup Brendon Gregory, now a sophomore, coming back from a knee injury and the addition of junior-college transfer Victor Perez, Pryor has some competition. That should only push him to become better, he says. In fact, it already has.
"The main thing I focused on this summer was staying in the pocket," Pryor said. "As a freshman and sophomore, I would sprint out of the pocket because I felt that it was collapsing or I wasn't trusting my offensive line. Just maturing and growing up, I just have to trust my offensive line and stay in the pocket, and give my receivers a chance to get open and get them the ball."
If that happens, watch out.
"Everybody wants to win a championship, but ... our minimum goal is trying to win the OVC championship," Pryor said. "We want to focus on making the playoffs and going past the first round."