This is the second installment of our Football 101 series heading into the start of the fall high school football practice. Find all the stories, as they appear, along with our Football 101 video series with coaches from Huntley, Marian Central and Johnsburg here.
He dove left, but first he lined up behind center.
Standing in a shotgun formation a few yards from the end zone, Billy Bahl took the snap, and rather than handing the ball off to the darting running back, he kept it and dashed into the end zone. A zone-read play. After the score, the Marian Central quarterback jogged back to the huddle, ready for another go.
“Good play, Billy,” yelled a teammate. A high-five followed.
Even for big-armed signal callers like the 6-foot-4 Bahl, they aren’t afforded the chance to simply sit and throw. To some degree now, they must also use their legs.
“You do,” said Bahl, who’s committed to Miami (Ohio). “I mean, it adds a lot more stress to the defense if you can move a little. You don’t have bust it, but if you can get 8, 10 yards when nobody is open, it’ll put a lot more stress on the defense trying to react.”
If this ordinary mid-July practice — or more specifically this touchdown scamper — can signify anything about playing quarterback as a high schooler, it’s this: it comes with a lengthy job description.
Rarely is anyone limited to being a one-trick pony. The quarterback is tasked with a number of duties. Take charge in the huddle. Change plays at the line of scrimmage. Hand off to a running back. Find an open receiver. If all fails, take off running. In short, direct the offense.
For Bahl, a senior, the responsibilities add up, too. Unlike last fall, his first year as a starter on varsity for the Hurricanes, he is now checking out of plays, especially when a blitz is coming. So, an encroaching linebacker might mean he’ll adjust a receiver’s route, giving him a chance to sling a pass sooner.
“If we have a set play,” he said, “we’re adding more stuff to it. If there’s a certain look to it, we’re adding more aspects to the play. I mean, if we have a run play and I see a back lined up somewhere we can do something where we have a receiver run a short little route and I can pull and throw it.”
For quarterbacks in more traditional offenses, much of the play is pre-scripted. It’s a handoff to a back, or it’s a passing play with intended targets. So, it becomes all the more imperative to be able to make adjustments prior to the snap rather than making decisions mid-play as seen in a Wing T or option-style offense, where a quarterback must choose whether to pitch to a running back or keep it.
“As a pro-style quarterback, you’re more of a guy who makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage and you don’t really just go on the fly,” McHenry senior quarterback Michael Briscoe said. “You try to change things beforehand.”
Which is why pre-snap reads become especially critical.
“I try to put my players in the best spots possible with different plays that will work, depending on how the defense is lined up,” Briscoe added. “For example, if we had a run play up the middle and I see that there are three linebackers right in the middle, I would never want to have players in that situation. I’d change it to a pass outside or a run outside, something like that.”
The life of a quarterback: keeping your head on a swivel, and learning to do a little bit of everything.