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November 19, 2010

Sophomore QBs lead big time programs

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

There are high-fives in the hallways, congratulations from well-wishers you don't even know and plenty of extra attention from your classmates.

There are also high expectations - often state title aspirations - and constant pressure to succeed on every play and in every game.

It's tough to be the starting quarterback at a football crazed high school. Harder still if you're one of the youngest players on the team.

Of the teams in this week's RivalsHigh 100 rankings, 62 are led by seniors; 32 lead by juniors.

Six are guided by sophomores.

In some ways, these six may have little in common on the football field.

Some are expected to be passers, others to be runners. Some are essential to making the offense move; others are just asked to manage it. Some knew this day was coming for years; others were rushed into the moment.

But they all share one thing in common: They are the big men on campus ... before they even know how to drive.

"Honestly it is pretty cool," Travis Wright, the sophomore quarterback for No. 87 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity, said. "It is a lot of work but when people know you are the varsity quarterback it is neat, especially being so young."

But, as White is quick to point out, it is a lot of work.


It is unusual for a sophomore to be trusted with the starting quarterback position at any school let alone one that is a perennial power with a reputation of being dominant locally and respected nationally.

Often it can simply be too risky for a coach to make the move to a young player at the risk of upsetting a junior or senior who thought he was paying his dues.

One way to ease a player into the spotlight is bringing him to varsity as a freshman and letting him observe the scene. That's the may it was for Max Browne, who starts for No. 96 Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline.

"I was up with the team last year; I think that helped with the transition this year," he said. "The sophomores and juniors last year saw me going through the same things as them and I got to know them right away. I got to build up that respect with them. Now they are the juniors and seniors and they know me. It helped a lot."

It also gave him the chance to be tutored by Jake Heaps, the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2010.

"Working with Jake was great," Browne said. "At first I wasn't his backup, another senior was, but once I moved to second string, he really helped me learn the offense and learn the reads."

The early move to the varsity level, according to Browne's coach Mat Taylor, made for an easier transition this year.

"Everyone wondered how he would fill in for Jake," Taylor said. "And after being with the team all last year, and through our offseason workouts, it was clear that the other kids had attached themselves to him."

"You are never going to truly replace a kid like Jake, but Max has been tremendous."

After a season-opening loss to Renton (Wash.) Liberty, a game which Browne threw for 416 yards, Skyline has won 10 in a row, ascending to the No. 1 spot in Washington and a national ranking.


Browne isn't the only sophomore trying to replace a local legend. Riley Ferguson at No. 21 Matthews (N.C.) Butler and Cord Sandberg at No. 28 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee are doing the same thing.

Their situations, however, are far from being the same.

Sandberg was eased into the role as a starter for No. 28-ranked Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, taking over for the now-at-Nebraska Brion Carnes.

"I was up with the varsity last year," he said. "And got to play a little, but coming into this year I knew I was the starter so there wasn't much pressure.

"I never really thought of it as taking over for Brion. He had his time and now it is mine."

He's making the most of it, already throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Ferguson, meanwhile, was rushed into his role.

Ferguson was expected to be the backup to star Christian LeMay. But when LeMay was forced to miss his senior season because of an off-the-field issue, Ferguson found himself in the starting lineup.

He knows, however, that he doesn't have to be a star.

"We have a lot of talented players on our team," Ferguson said. "I don't have to carry the team, I just have to do my part."

Others are asked to do more.


Jarrett Solomon runs the show for No. 63 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman.

He is not just expected to be sophomore starter - but a sophomore superstar.

Thus far, he is each living up to his end of the deal.

Soloman, who also started as a freshman, is leading one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country. He has thrown for a little more than 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns for a 10-2 Bishop Gorman team.

Meanwhile, at No. 36 Lafayette (La.) St. Thomas More, Brandon Bergeron is showing the makings of a stat star for an 11-0 team that is averaging just under 40 points per game.

Bergeron has only attempted 135 passes, but he has completed just over 70 percent of them for 1,374 yards and 12 TDs against just six interceptions.

Stats like these prove sophomore have no trouble producing numbers.

Of course, they ultimately will be judged on their ability to produce titles.


With all six quarterbacks still alive in the playoffs, how high will the bar be raised for each of them if they are able to take their respective teams to a state title?

"It is great to have the expectations raised," Browne said. "If you expect more from people you usually get it. We didn't have the national rankings entering the season like we did last year and we want to get back to that. We want to win state and be mentioned among the best in the nation, like last year's team."

Browne's coach tempers those expectations.

"It will be a tremendous luxury for us heading into next season," Taylor said. "Having the same quarterback will allow us to make any changes we want to make. Obviously we always want to compete for a title, but we take that week by week, not year by year. If we win with Max as a sophomore, that doesn't mean we are automatically going to win when he is a junior or senior. There is a lot of hard work to be done."

That is an understanding Sandberg already has.

"We want to win our district every year," he said. "That is whether I am quarterback or someone else. We want to win states every year. And we have to work hard to make that happen. If national expectations are put on us, that is fine, but that is not something we can control. We just want to win every game."

With the way he's playing now, Sandberg figures to have an opportunity to claim a state title, something that evaded Carnes.

But while Sandberg has three tries to win it, he's cognizant that many of his teammates are on their final go around.

The age of their quarterback is the least of their concern - as long as he's getting the job done.

"I don't think people on the team really care that I am a sophomore," he said. "They care about winning and we are doing that."

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