published Friday, October 4th, 2013

Arms race in 5-AAA: Big-school district is rich in quarterbacks

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    Ooltewah quarterback Brody Binder (6) hands the ball off to Desmond Pittman (3) while playing against East Hamilton.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Cleveland Blue Raiders quarterback Austin Herink drops back to pass during the football jamboree at Finley Stadium in August.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
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    EHHS quarterback Hunter Moore looks for an open teammate during a scrimmage between Polk County and East Hamilton at the Hurricanes' practice field.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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    Bradley Central quarterback Brett Standifer drops back to pass during a football scrimmage at Bradley Central High School in Cleveland, Tenn.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Damon Floyd is in his eighth season as Bradley Central's head football coach. He's been fortunate to have some good quarterbacks during that time, but he also has had the headache of having to deal with some good ones from opposing teams.

But never has he seen the arms race his district has become this season.

The top five area quarterbacks in passing yardage and touchdowns this year are all from District 5-AAA. Tonight, four of them will be on opposing sidelines, as Bradley travels to Ooltewah while Cleveland visits East Hamilton.

Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink leads the area in yardage (1,730) and touchdown passes (18). He's added eight touchdowns on the ground this season, having dropped 20 pounds in the offseason to increase his speed. His counterpart tonight, East Hamilton's Hunter Moore, is second in yards and tied for third in touchdowns. He's committed to play for Central Arkansas, an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision school.

Herink and Moore trained together over the summer. They talked about tonight's meeting then, but with Cleveland's seventh-ranked Blue Raiders sitting at 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the district and the third-ranked Hurricanes at 4-1 and 1-1, the game has even more significance than they may have imagined.

Ooltewah's Brody Binder, who has the strongest arm of the group, is a Troy baseball commitment who is second in the area with 12 touchdown passes and fourth in yards. Bradley senior Brett Standifer, who spent three years as a starting quarterback at Soddy-Daisy, has 995 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, while adding 269 yards rushinig and five scores. His replacement at Soddy-Daisy, junior Hunter Maynor, is third in yardage (1,039) and tied for third in touchdowns (11).

Floyd, who also serves as defensive coordinator, said that one of the biggest challenges is trying to scheme a defense that can stop what each quarterback can do.

"You can disguise coverages as best as possible, but these quarterbacks are good enough to make the right reads," he said. "They're all students of the game. When I was in high school, defenses ran one coverage, but now we have defenses that have seven different coverages. You can't sit in a base defense, because these quarterbacks can pick you apart.

"We have to do a lot more planning, but yet you also don't want to overload the players. It's hard trying to find that balance."

To Floyd's point, the five 5-AAA quarterbacks have 24 interceptions in 713 passes combined -- or an average of one about every 30 passes.

In an age in which the spread has taken over offenses at all levels of football, defenses have been left scrambling trying to figure out the next defense that can eliminate what a team likes to do best. Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said the biggest aid for a quarterback isn't necessarily what he can do, but what is built around him in playmakers at skill positions.

"Things have been complicated for defenses, because you used to line up with two backs in the I-formation and run the ball," he said. "Now you have to change the way you look at coverages, because you have to defend more vertically."

East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said he can't recall this many quality quarterbacks being in one district at the same time.

"I've been very fortunate to know and have met all four [apart from Moore], and they are some of, if not the best collection of quarterbacks ever in our district," Gatewood said. "Man, they're phenomenal -- and it says a lot about the work they've put in to get to this level."

It's come to a point now that a team without a quality quarterback is a step behind the competition regardless of its athletes in other positions. The signal-caller doesn't have to pose the biggest of threats throwing the ball, as some area quarterbacks have shown playmaking prowess with their legs, including East Ridge's Jojo Tillery and Boyd-Buchanan's dual-threat Jim Cardwell.

Today's quarterback better be able to do something very well or a number of things pretty well.

"If you don't have a quarterback nowadays, you're in trouble," Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan said. "If that position isn't producing, it's hard to maintain consistency offensively. You can have a good running back or wide receivers, but you have to have a guy behind center to make plays.

"He has to be a playmaker, one who can always make plays. I'm glad I've got a good one this year that can make any throw."

The Arms Race in 5-AAA

Brody Binder, Ooltewah

• Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds

• Key stats: 1,023 yards passing, 12 touchdowns

• What do you do well? "People say that it's probably my arm strength. I really focus on trying to make good decisions and not turn the ball over."

• What do you need to work on? "My footwork's been a problem. Most of the missed throws I've had have been about not having my feet right. If I have proper footwork, I usually make the right throws."

• What do you like about Bradley Central quarterback Brett Standifer? "He throws the ball well and can definitely make plays with his feet. He makes good decisions with the football."

Austin Herink, Cleveland

• Size: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds

• Key stats: 1,730 yards passing, 18 touchdowns; 8 TDs rushing

• What do you do well? "I think I have pretty good throwing ability. I don't have the strongest arm, but I think I'm pretty accurate. I love watching film, which helps me a lot on game day, and I don't think I get too high or too low at any point during the game."

• What do you need to work on? "At times, I do check out of games and go into my own little box and not let anybody in. I've got more interceptions this year than I did all of last, so I still have to work on not making mental mistakes."

• What do you like about East Hamilton quarterback Hunter Moore? "He's a guy that gets his team in the right position at all times. Last year, he didn't have as much on his hands, but this year he's being asked to step up more and he's made up for what they lost in the running game with his ability to pass the ball."

Hunter Moore, East Hamilton

• Size: 6-foot, 205 pounds

• Key stats: 1,237 yards passing, 11 touchdowns

• What do you do well? "I think I'm a pretty good game manager. We have a lot of speed and a lot of game-changers on the field, so I'm able to get the ball out of my hand as quickly as possible so that they can make plays."

• What do you need to work on? "Probably my mechanics. I could probably watch more film -- you can never watch enough film -- but I need some work on my fundamentals."

• What do you like about Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink? "He's a big dude that's hard to bring down. He's got a laser and a cannon for an arm. You hear about guys that can make all the throws, and he's one of them. If you give him enough time, he will pick you apart."

Brett Standifer, Bradley Central

• Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds

• Key stats: 995 yards passing, 11 touchdowns; 269 yards rushing, 5 TDs

• What do you do well? "Coach [Keith] Freeman [Bradley's offensive coordinator] does a good job scheming for both my legs and my arm strength, so it's hard to know where I'm going with the ball. I'm a four-year starter, and it's hard for me to see something I haven't seen before. I feel I know what a defense is going to do."

• What do you need to work on? "I definitely have to get Logan [Fetzner] going in the running game. One thing defenses are doing is coming up more on our receivers, so I also have to get the ball downfield to Dee [Crisp] more."

• What do you like about Ooltewah quarterback Brody Binder? "He definitely has the arm strength; he's probably broke some fingers of his receivers because he throws a rocket. His ability to throw into some tight windows is incredible, and he is hard on defensive backs to cover because some of the windows he's able to get the ball through are ridiculous."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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