Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.
There is no debating that quarterback play at the high school level has improved in the last 20 years. But the expectations of the high school quarterback have only gotten more demanding and more pronounced with the advent of social media, Hudl, news broadcasts and more, putting a lot of pressure on kids between the ages of 15 and 18 to be at their best constantly when the lights are the brightest.
We have seen what a difference a quarterback can make to a program and the success that comes to the team when that position is solidified.
James Knapke led a loaded skill position group at Bishop Luers for years producing multiple state titles as the Knights signal caller.
Michael Lovett and C.J. Jackson provided a string of success and stability at the position leading North Side to three consecutive winning seasons from 2011-2013, as well as the conference championship in 2013.
Isaac Stiebeling engineered a second half comeback that will live in IHSAA history at the state finals against New Palestine in 2015, making every play necessary to will the Panthers to a championship.
There are countless others who deserve a whole page to themselves for what they accomplished for their school, but you get the idea, we are no stranger to good quarterback play here in Fort Wayne. Collectively, however, this may be as balanced and talented of a group of quarterbacks as we have seen in a long time in the SAC. Each of the following quarterbacks brings something a little different to the team they lead, and each get the job done in their own unique way.
LUKE GOODE, HOMESTEAD
Decision making. We are all aware of Goode’s athletic talent, his skills on the hardwood, and his dedication to the classroom, but his decision making might just be his greatest asset.
Goode has yet to turn the ball over this year for the Spartans, who we found out last Friday can win a low-scoring game against top-tier competition. Homestead was always a team who had to beat you in a shootout and really struggled when the chips were down and the game was played at a slower pace, but what they did Friday in beating Bishop Dwenger was win “THAT” type of game that has eluded them for years.
Goode’s 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions embody who Homestead is this year a team that will not beat themselves and has enough weapons to win a shootout when necessary. The 851 yards and a 58 percent completion percentage are stellar numbers, but the longer Goode continues to be smart with the football, the more success this Homestead team will find.
JEFFREY BECKER, CARROLL
Maturity. Sophomore varsity quarterbacks are not quite as rare as they used to be, but to start as a sophomore on a contender says something about Becker as a kid, and to me it says Coach Doug Dinan trusts him.
Becker is a playmaker sure, but my word for Becker would be “maturity” and he certainly does appear to exude plenty of it. As a sophomore the game comes at you fast. You don’t quite have the experience yet to process what is going on as it happens, so you rely on athletic ability and instinct to play the position. If Becker’s early-season success is any indication then he has quite a bit of it! A 10:4 TD/INT ratio is acceptable as a 16-year-old in your first varsity games, and his 740 yards through the air is second in the conference only to Luke Goode. What impresses me most about Becker though his ability to keep plays alive, often rolling with his eyes downfield rather than taking two steps then taking off for a minimal gain. His completion percentage will improve with time and experience, but he has shown flashes of greatness so far, and will provide matchup nightmares for SAC opponents for years to come as he continues to grow more comfortable.
DUCE TAYLOR, NORTH SIDE
Confidence. Duce Taylor has brought the most valuable intangible to the North Side program that a quarterback can bring and that is confidence to his teammates and coaches.
The Legends looked like a renewed bunch last Friday with Taylor behind center, allowing him to play freely and creatively inside their offensive scheme. Sure, Taylor brought with him exciting plays, but also excitement to the team as there was a noticeable increase in energy and excitement from the Legends as they followed their leader up and down the field in a 48-16 victory over Wayne.
The unselfishness of former QB Ronald Collins III and the spark that Taylor brought to the offense changes my opinion on what the Legends are capable of this season going forward. North Side goes from a team lucky to win two games to a team I would expect to beat South Side and Bishop Luers and compete with Concordia and Northrop, giving North Side a legitmate chance to win five games heading into the playoffs.
North will continue to cut “Duce Loose” and continue to excite offensively with their reenergized staff and scheme!
BRANDON DAVIS, CONCORDIA LUTHERAN
Underrated. Davis is a victim of the “system” in which Concordia plays the game, meaning everyone in the conference just assumes whoever takes snaps for the Cadets will put up impressive numbers.
This is not always the case however, and Davis has made plays with his legs to set up his arm in numerous situations so far this season.
The Cadets love to incorporate the short tailback screen and long outside screen (known as IRISH) to one of their sure-handed receivers like Jeren Kindig. But they also do as good a job as anyone in the city on finding the open man during a scramble situation. Kindig especially is as good as I have seen in this area in following Davis as he rolls, settling down in an open spot, and letting the quarterback make a laser throw on the run.
Davis’s athleticism, arm strength, receiving corps and his ability to make the right decision on the run all deserve praise as much as the system in which he plays (and yes, I love Coach Tim Mannigel’s system as much as you do).
JON BARNES JR., SNIDER AND BRENDEN LYTLE, BISHOP DWENGER
Pressure. The last two quarterbacks to be mentioned will be grouped together for the simple fact that their expectations are the same.
A consistent message from Snider and Dwenger on a yearly basis outlines their program goals very clearly, “a conference championship and a state championship.” Barnes and Lytle command the huddle at schools where winning is the only way their fan bases know and losing is unacceptable.
Sure, there are advantages when you take the reins at Snider or Dwenger. You are normally going to have consistent top-notch coaching, you are going to have a strong defense and special teams, and you will have excellent line play, but with those advantages come further scrutiny than at some other programs. I was a three-year starter at Bishop Dwenger at quarterback and I know the rumblings that grow in volume in the crowd every time you make a wrong decision or God forbid turn the football over.
My mom, a teacher for 30-plus years in Fort Wayne, used to have to surround herself in the stands with those close to the family just to avoid the comments and criticisms coming from every arm chair quarterback you can imagine back then at Zollner stadium. I hear it to this day at games I attend, and I assure you, these two hear it too.
However, this duo is tough, they are driven, they are excellent commanding the offenses of two perennial powers and they not only understand the pressure that comes with playing the position, they embrace it. Barnes and Lytle are not game managers, but they also know they don’t have to beat you by themselves. They are unselfish with the football, accurate, and smart in their decision-making process as you’d expect from the person chosen to play under center for these two programs. They embody the class and humility required to represent their individual schools, and they will always put their programs in a position late in a game to have a chance.
The pressure that Barnes and Lytle feel is real, but so far, they have handled it with the poise and precision you would expect a Dwenger or Snider signal caller to possess.
Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season at Outside the Huddle.