Friday, August 20, 2010

SPORTS>>Quarterbacks taking charge

Leader sports editor

Whatever the offense, someone needs to make it go.

Football season opens next week with a number of area teams breaking in, or trying to find, new quarterbacks while others welcome veterans back to the huddle.

From standout incumbent Seth Keese at Harding Academy to new signal caller Logan DeWhitt at Lonoke, each quarterback will carry the fortunes of his team under center.

No team appears more set at the position than Harding Academy, the defending 2-3A Conference champion and preseason favorite, which returns the all-state product Keese. The 5-11, 185-pound senior passed for 2,480 yards and 22 touchdowns out of the Wildcats’ Spread offense and rushed for 909 yards and 19 scores.

The only blot on the season for Keese and the Wildcats was the one-sided state semifinal loss to eventual 3A champion Fountain Lake, when Keese tore his ACL on a late hit on the game’s third play.

Though he finished the game, Keese, who already has a scholarship offer from nearby Harding University, had to skip basketball while he rehabilitated, but coach Roddy Mote said he looks good as new.

“He’s been doing well,” Mote said. “He looks like the Seth of old, I guess you could say. He’s playing fast, and we should be better there.

“We’re counting on him to have a great year.”

But Keese isn’t the only established quarterback in the area.

North Pulaski welcomes athletic junior Shyheim Barron, a threat to run or throw in the Falcons’ new Spread offense.

Barron, 6-1, 195 pounds, was also banged up with a strained knee last season, but he showed glimpses of his versatility with a 100-yard game against Little Rock McClellan.

“The best thing about him is not only can he throw, his feet move,” coach Terrod Hatcher said. “Being able to have a running quarterback in the Spread offense is very important. Very important.”

The Spread is considered t0 be a passingformation because it stretches the defensive secondary with multiple receivers and creates mismatches, but it also spreads the field and provides room for guys like Barron to run.

“I like throwing and running so it’s in my category,” Barron said. “It’s my choice to hand the ball off or keep it.”

The quarterback is just as important to teams that almost exclusively keep the ball on the ground.

At defending 7A-Central Conference champion Cabot, coach Mike Malham has presided over a three-way competition to determine who will replace three-year starter Seth Bloomberg in the Panthers’ punishing Dead T.

Malham has settled on Zach Craig, 6-2, 195 pounds. Craig, who transferred from Monticello two years ago and passed for 1,000 yards as a freshman, can throw; in the Dead T he shouldn’t get that many attempts.

However, Craig will do more than hand off the ball. The Dead T thrives on misdirection, making timing critical, and since Cabot frequently uses the option to get outside, the quarterback must be tough as he gets his fair share of carries.

“Most people are either going to throw the ball or they’re going to run the option,” Malham said. “I don’t know of too many football teams that don’t throw and don’t run the option. That would be pretty easy to defend I think.”

Beebe’s returning senior starter Scot Gowen will also direct the Dead T as the Badgers compete in the 5A-East this season. Gowen, 5-11, 185, rushed for close to 800 yards last year and rushed for 100 yards in three games.

“The big thing for him is that he’s worked on improving the little things a quarterback does,” Beebe coach John Shannon said.

Senior Dezmond Stegall is one of Searcy’s top returners as the Lions try to find balance in what second-year coach Tim Harper has been calling a “Spread Wing T.” Stegall, 6-2 195, fills the bill as a strong-armed quarterback who also has 4.65 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Jacksonville is shifting to a running attack after using the Spread last season, but big-play senior Logan Perry, 5-11, 180, returns at quarterback, where he will be handing off to physical, speedy senior Antwon Mosby and looking for multi-talented receiver D’Vone McClure.

Lonoke, the 4A state runner-up last year, took a hit in the preseason when leading quarterback candidate Tarrale Watson suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out until at least late in the season. But coach Doug Bost is comfortable with Logan DeWhitt, 6-3, 185, who focused on academics and did not play last year and was in a tight competition with Watson before the injury.

Lonoke, too, will be operating out of the Spread this year.

Sylvan Hills is another team welcoming back a quarterback who skipped last season. The Bears are going with 5-10, 165-pound senior Michael Maddox, a baseball standout who will direct the team’s Spread offense.

Riverview enters its third year of varsity football with its first new quarterback in junior Josh Roach, 5-6, 145 pounds, who got some quality playing time last year when two-year starter Grafton Harrell broke his thumb after throwing for 1,336 yards and 16 touchdowns.