Thursday, August 30, 2012

SNEAK PEEK: Mercury Football Preview cover story

Thanks for visiting Mercury Sports Live! As a way to show our appreciation here's an early look at the cover story from The Mercury's high school football preview section, which will be featured in Friday's edition in time for Opening Night. Enjoy!

Quarterbacks are asked to do more than ever

By Don Seeley

Hank Coyne doesn’t mind passing the football.
Tory Hudgins doesn’t mind running with it.
And Brandon Bossard doesn’t mind doing a little of both with it.
There was a time, and not too awfully long ago, when Coyne, Hudgins and Bossard — any high school quarterback, for that matter — would’ve gotten the next play from the sideline and knew exactly what they’d be doing before they situated themselves under the center to take the snap, too.
Simple enough … but a thing of the past.
The game has changed.
And no position on the field has changed anywhere near as much as it has at quarterback.
Most area coaches, especially those who played themselves back in the 60s or 70s, even some in the 80s, have seen — up close — how the quarterback position as well as the game has evolved, too.
Among them are Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker, who helped pave the way as an offensive lineman for Spring-Ford’s very first football championship in 1969; Owen J. Roberts head coach Tom Barr, one of the Wildcat workhorses out of the backfield for Hall of Fame head coach Henry Bernat from 1977-79; and Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker, who worked on getting receivers and a handful of great quarterbacks on the same page at Wilson for a dozen years before taking over the Rams’ program.
“The plays came in from the sideline and we ran them,” Pennypacker recalled. “I don’t ever remember any audibles. The play called was the play we ran.”
“The plays came in from the sideline, we ran them and that was it,” Barr added, nearly echoing Pennypacker’s exact comment. “I don’t ever remember hearing an audible.”
Now it’s rare when a quarterback doesn’t call an audible at the line of scrimmage.
Looking back at last season, three area coaches said their quarterback probably checked off upwards of 50 percent of the original plays called. Three others said that figure was around 40 percent. A couple more estimated the number was closer to 30-35 percent.
Quarterbacks — as well as their teammates — still memorize the playbook, which may be heavily edited from week to week to address the next opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. But the quarterback, perhaps as much as anyone (including the head coach and offensive coordinator), must know where everyone else should be lined up for every single play.
And if that isn’t enough, the quarterback must identify the defensive sets lined up to stop him right smack across the line of scrimmage — and then check off, or call an audible, before he even gets under center to take the snap.
“We ask a lot of our quarterback today,” said Methacton head coach Paul Lepre.
“There are greater expectations now,” added Brubaker. “(At Spring-Ford), every one of our kids has to know what everyone else is supposed to do, not just the quarterback. That’s an across-the-board responsibility. But the buck stops with the quarterback.”
In other words, the success (or failure) of an offense begins and ends with the quarterback.
It isn’t about just getting that play, taking a snap, and handing off or throwing the football anymore.
“It used to be everyone pounded the ball down your throat,” Pennypacker explained. “But the game has changed in that regard.”
“Offenses have become much more complicated, and the defenses show you a lot more sets,” added Brubaker. “Then you have teams show you some things they’re not accustomed to doing, things you haven’t seen before (or prepared for).
“So you need an answer for that, a quick answer. You must be more flexible and overcome that. That’s why your quarterback is like a part-time assistant (coach) on the field. He can help tell (the coaches) what he sees out there.”
How well, or how quickly, a quarterback recognizes what he sees across the line more often than not will determine if the ensuing snap evolves into a busted play or a big play, a turnover or a touchdown.
So a quarterback today must commit to hours of preparation, well beyond the after-school practice grind, too.
“Quarterbacks today have to be more knowledgeable because they have to recognize those fronts and coverage packages, and that takes time,” Barr said. “The quarterbacks may be more advanced, though, because they’re learning so much in junior high, doing a lot of what we’re doing (at the high school level).
“And technology has had a big impact on them, too. With all the films, they can sit down anytime, look at plays or a game, and break down everything.”
But even with all the technological advances, most coaches will continue to outline (or scheme) their offenses around the quarterback’s strengths.
“We take into consideration what our quarterback’s skill set is,” Brubaker explained. “We ask ourselves if the starting quarterback is able to do everything in our offense.”
Just a few years ago, Perkiomen Valley head coach Scott Reed had one of the most proficient passing quarterbacks in the history of the PAC-10 with Zach Zulli. For a couple of years, PV — long known to be a run-oriented program — became quite pass-happy.
“A quarterback’s skill set can often determine your philosophy,” Reed explained. “Zach Zulli was an amazing quarterback who could see the whole field, so we took advantage of his ability to throw the ball.”
For the last two years, Pope John Paul II head coach Mike Santillo had record-breaking southpaw David Cotellese and a slew of high-quality receivers … but virtually no running game.
“Our personnel dictated our offense,” Santillo said after watching the elusive Cotellese elude blitz after blitz and pick apart opposing secondaries, often finding a second, third or even fourth receiver on any given play.
Brubaker has had the luxury of having Coyne under center (not to mention Jarred Jones behind him to take handoffs). Coyne’s maturity from his sophomore to junior season was significant, as both his own numbers as well as the Rams’ drive to an unbeaten PAC-10 championship run indicate.
But instead of spelling Coyne in run-related or short-yardage situations as he’s done in the past, Brubaker may just go with his three-year veteran to answer those dilemmas this season.
“(Coyne) is up to 180 pounds or so now,” he said. “He’s bigger, stronger, and he’s improved his speed. So we’ll utilize him a little bit more as a running quarterback instead of what we’ve done in the past by bringing in someone else to run the football.”
Pennypacker, of course, has rarely strayed from running, running and running some more. He has had a long line of unsung quarterbacks who had the ability to check off when needed and execute. Just a few years ago, Terrell Chestnut proved it by guiding the Falcons to a District 1-Class AAA title. Last year, Hudgins duplicated that feat, and will in the lineup this fall looking to improve on his area-highs of 1,530 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns as well as guide the Falcons into the postseason again.
“Up to around 2001 we would call a play and just run it,” Pennypacker said. “But it’s evolved now to the point that our quarterbacks have the opportunity to call an audible on every play.”
“A lot of our kids, including Terry and Tory, have been very smart quarterbacks. They often audibled, often made the right calls.”
Lepre has been blessed to have Bossard, an Eastern Michigan University recruit who has the ability to effectively run as well as throw the football. A senior, Bossard is within reach of finishing his career at Methacton with well over 3,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing.
Most important, Bossard — like Coyne and Hudgins — made giant strides from his sophomore to junior season a year ago. He made the right reads, the right calls and became an integral part of the Warriors’ success last fall, helping produce their first winning season in the PAC-10 and first overall winning season since 2000.
That transition, or maturity, is what Reed hopes to get from Rasaan Stewart, a junior, this season.
“As a quarterback gets older the speed of the game gets a little slower,” Reed explained. “The learning curve isn’t as great.
“Rasaan is getting into deeper concepts now. He did a lot last year on instinct, and he had some success because of his athleticism. But he’s matured a lot, and now he’s developing into more of a quarterback. How he has a better feel for (the defenses) he sees, a better feel for the coverages he sees.”
Other coaches around the PAC-10 hope to see that maturity, that development, from their own quarterbacks, too … like Boyertown’s Griffin Pasik; OJR’s Jarrad Pinelli; Phoenixville’s Chris Demey; PJP’s James Blemming; Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart; and Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Wesley.
“There are good quarterbacks all around our league,” Brubaker said.
“And the big thing is that a quarterback, with all the challenges and responsibilities he has now, can’t worry if he’s doing something wrong as much as he has to be concerned about what he can do to help his team,” Reed added.
“The quarterback is the focal point of every team,” Lepre said. “(The quarterback position) is where everything starts.”
And it takes, as one coach said, “a certain breed” to be a quarterback.
It has nothing to do with his weight, height, strength or speed, either.
“We all know that a quarterback has to know the plays, has the ability to recognize defenses, make sure everyone is lined up in the right place, and know his progressions,” Lepre said.
“But just as important, if not more important, he has to lead by example, and that’s with his efforts on and off the field. He has to be a leader, the player who demands respect from everyone on his team.”

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