Is quarterback the most important position in high school football? Philip Haywood thinks so.
“There’s probably no other sport where there’s one player that can have such a great impact on the game as the quarterback,” said the longtime Belfry head coach.
Haywood’s teams have thrown for a little more than 6,400 yards … in the last 10 seasons combined. Why, then, would the man who’s won more football games than anyone else in state history feel so strongly about the importance of the quarterback position?
Because there’s a lot more to it than tossing the pigskin around.
“Throwing the football today, that’s kind of the “in” thing, and we’re a little bit different, but if you still look at the quarterbacks when we’ve been very successful, regardless of how many times we throw the ball, I think it still comes back to their leadership and being able to make plays and make the players around them better,” Haywood said.
That wasn’t too far off from what Tates Creek Coach Antoine Sims — whose teams do like to throw the ball, having accumulated 5,521 yards through the air in just the last two seasons — had to say about his expectations of the most glamorous position in sports.
“When he’s in that huddle he’s supposed to be in charge of the huddle,” said Sims, a former lineman who played for the University of Louisville. “ … He has to be the guy that, when stuff goes wrong, he has to look at a coach and be like, ‘Coach, I got us. We’re good.’ That has to be his role.
“If he doesn’t want to accept that, you might be in for a long season. I need my quarterback to be the leader of the program.”
‘100-percent, team-first guy’
Coaches agree that the quarterback position can make or break their seasons, regardless of how many times the offense asks him to connect with a receiver for a highlight play.
In the NFL, with its big-play superstars, and college football, with its spread offenses, a quarterback who can wing it rules the day. High school offenses aren’t built the same way, but the signal caller seems to matter every bit as much.
Jim McKee’s Scott County teams have had ample success running the Wing-T offense, which doesn’t typically call for a lot of shots down the field. What it does require is a “unique, 100-percent, team-first guy,” McKee said — a guy who’s often easier to describe than find in an era where sports specialization and emphasis on college recruitment frequently supplant team goals. Having that guy under center “is a really important thing for us,” McKee said.
That guy for the last couple of seasons has been Josh Davis, who will be a senior this year. As a junior he threw only 97 passes — about seven a game.
“I wear headphones that cover both ears so that I don’t have to listen to the guy in the stands scream about opening it up,” McKee said with a grin.
When he put it in the air, though, Davis made most of his throws count. He had 57 completions — nearly a 60-percent success rate — and had a 14-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
“We have tons of big plays in our passing game, we just don’t line up and throw the ball that much,” McKee said. “But when we throw it, we’re extremely effective.”
Scott County was fortunate to have an incumbent quarterback coming into 2017. Caldwell County, located in Princeton, expected to have that same advantage but learned during the summer that returning starter Shane Burns would not play so he could focus on baseball (he’s committed to Murray State as left-handed pitcher).
Burns was the heir apparent to Elijah Sindelar, who’s now at Purdue. Joby Jaggers, a junior who’s thrown 26 varsity passes, is the next man up for a program that loves to air it out.
“For us, for as much as we throw it, the quarterback position is a pivotal spot and that’s why the reps and experience are so helpful,” said Tigers Coach David Barnes, who expects Jaggers to quickly get up to speed.
Burns ranked among the state’s overall leaders in passing yardage each of the last two seasons. Sindelar did the same thing in the two years before that. The quarterback plays a major, active role in Barnes’ offense; as teams emulate the pros more and more, and guys at the position become stronger and faster, he expects that to become the standard across the board.
“If you look at everything going on now, the quarterback position is gonna become more and more important,” Barnes said. “The quarterback at Louisville’s a running quarterback and throws it. If you’ve got a kid like him, he’s gonna be the go-to guy on offense.
“I don’t see it going back to the old days where it’s all wishbone football. I see it moreso, with the safety factor in it, a quarterback being more and more a part of the offense.”
A coaching adage suggests that a football team can only be as good as its 11th-best player. But, if the guy at quarterback is an other-worldly talent, that might not hold true.
“Sometimes you’ll see a quarterback and he’s just outstanding and dominates games,” Haywood said. “You look at the NFL, obviously (Tom) Brady’s a dominating quarterback, but the thing that he does well and a lot of other guys do too, is he makes guys around him better.”
A guy who did that in high school was Tim Couch, who passed for what was then a national record of 12,167 yards during his four years at Leslie County. Couch’s teams twice thwarted Haywood’s in the playoffs; Haywood’s teams eventually won six titles without a prolific passer.
Imagine the Pirates with a player like Couch under center.
“We’ve been pretty good with what I call average quarterbacks, but somewhere along the line our running backs have had to be better or our line’s had to be better,” Haywood said. “Somewhere we gotta pick up the slack. But you can take a very good quarterback and go a long way with him.”
Coach Frank Parks has had a few strong quarterbacks in his short time as head coach at Bryan Station. Ora Johnson (Kentucky State) and Andre Davis (Murray State) went on to play college football and Jalen Burbage, a junior, likely will get that opportunity as well.
The nature of football makes singling out any one position over the other difficult, Parks said, because of the amount of things happening on the field on any given play. But the quarterback’s ability to affect the game in a multitude of ways — changing plays, running, throwing, improvising, rallying the troops — makes him indispensable.
“The quarterback position is, probably, the most valuable you have in high school,” Parks said.
Lexington’s projected starting QBs
Bryan Station — Jalen Burbage, junior
Frederick Douglass — Montaveon Bean, junior
Henry Clay — Greg Couch, senior
Lafayette — Teandre Newcomb, junior
Lexington Catholic — Beau Allen, sophomore
Lexington Christian — Brayden Miller, senior; Logan Nieves, senior
Paul Laurence Dunbar — Tanner Cox, junior
Tates Creek — Cam Workman, senior