Winthrop/Monmouth quarterback Keegan Choate faces pressure from Ellsworth linebacker Charlie Hughes during a Class D game at Maxwell Field in Winthrop last season. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
TURNER — Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire could be describing another more famous New England quarterback when he reveals how his junior quarterback, Keegan Choate, is preparing for a bigger role in the Ramblers’ offense.
“He eats healthy. He writes down everything he eats,” St. Hilaire said. “He weightlifts before practice, before double sessions.”
“He threw 203 passes last year. I would think he’s going to throw about 250 this year, but also run the ball more,” St. Hilaire said.
Choate is one of several central Maine quarterbacks who took over a huddle as a freshman or sophomore and are hoping to reap the rewards of their baptism by fire this season.
Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron, Dirigo’s Cole Brown and Leavitt’s Wyatt Hathaway got their varsity wings as freshmen QBs last year, as did Mountain Valley’s Dylan Desroches two years ago.
Rawstron earned his starting nod from the start of last season, whereas injuries to senior starters pressed Brown and Hathaway into service prematurely.
Whatever lumps they took as freshmen are just battle scars now. For a sophomore, already having varsity experience to fall back on can be a major confidence boost.
“It was really helpful playing last year,” Brown said. “Now I have a ton of film to go over and I’m comfortable with all of the players who are back.”
In Brown’s and Hathaway’s case, they’re more comfortable with the playbook, which is more tailored to their strengths.
“We’ve got a lot of sprintout stuff, whereas last year, everything was straight drop (back) for Timmy (Albert, last year’s starting QB),” Hathaway said. “If I get out, I’ll try and make some plays and make some throws on the run, just try to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
“The experience helps, but the big thing for me is just try to get it into the skill guys’ hands and let them work,” he added
Few freshmen could have been much better prepared to take over command of a varsity offense midseason than Hathway, who took over Leavitt’s starting role for one game and had to check in as a reliever early in a couple of other games as Albert battled an injured foot.
Hathaway is the son of Leavitt head coach Mike Hathaway, so he grew up watching QBs such as Tyler Angell, Evan Barker and Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jordan Hersom operate his dad’s playbook up close. He’s also played quarterback since fourth grade in some form of the Hornets’ spread offense.
In his 17 years as Leavitt’s head coach, Mike Hathaway has never gone into a season with anyone younger than a junior as the starting QB. So despite his son’s grasp of the offense and varsity experience, the coach isn’t going to open the playbook to his new quarterback like he would a two-year senior starter.
“You’ve got to ease him into it a little bit. You can’t throw him into the fire too much,” Mike Hathaway said.
“We’ve got a lot of good weapons around him,” he added, “so we’ve told him his job is to get the ball into their hands and we’ll try to protect you as well as we can up front.”
The learning curve can’t be too steep for Hathaway, or a lot of other young quarterbacks on teams with state title hopes.
“By midseason, you want them rolling full-tilt,” Mike Hathaway said.
Like Choate last season, Lewiston quarterback Tanner Cortes took over the starting role as a sophomore two years ago. In addition to having a better command of the playbook, coach Bruce Nicholas is expecting him to have better command of the huddle as he enters his third season as a starter.
“Last year, he sort of played like a junior on a team with a lot of seniors,” Nicholas said. “This year, he’s undoubtedly a senior. He had a great summer. He’s a little bigger, a little bit stronger, is throwing the ball better and he’s ready to take that next step as a leader.”
Whether they take their first steps as a freshman or a senior, the next step is always the toughest for a high school quarterback to take.