SARASOTA — It’s the position on the field that garners the most attention.
The one position where notable achievements are glorified and mistakes are magnified.
To be a high school quarterback is no easy task.
You have to be a leader.
You have to be mentally tough and be physically sound.
And, most importantly, you have to willing to push aside your own individual notoriety for the betterment of the team.
This season, a senior, a junior and a freshman are all learning how to handle the expectations that come when the lights go on, because Booker, Sarasota and The Out-of-Door Academy all have new faces under center this season.
Jeremiah Henderson was told he couldn’t play quarterback.
Sure, he had the arm strength, but in the eyes of his former coaches, the 6-foot-4 Henderson was better suited for the defensive line.
Henderson, who began playing quarterback when he was 6 years old, initially didn’t think much about the transition.
“I just wanted to be on the field,” Henderson says. “I was athletic enough that I could play the position.”
But, as the season progressed, the former Riverview High defensive lineman started having second thoughts.
Henderson transferred last winter to Booker High and immediately decided to go out for the football team — this time as a quarterback.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting a real opportunity (before),” Henderson says. “Coach Johnnie (Jones) made it feel like home for me.
“It means a lot to be the starting quarterback at Booker,” Henderson says. “There’s a lot on my shoulders to become a leader. My teammates look up to me, and now I’ve got the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Henderson took his first varsity snaps in the Tornadoes’ spring game versus Palmetto. But, it wasn’t until Friday night that Henderson saw his first regular season varsity action in the Tornadoes’ 49-18 loss to Sarasota.
It wasn’t the debut performance for which had Henderson had hoped. Now, he must regroup as he prepares to face his former team Friday night.
“Riverview didn’t think I could play quarterback,” Henderson says. “I want to show everyone that I am a quarterback.”
Four years ago, Nate Strawderman knew little about playing quarterback.
The former East Manatee Bulldog signal caller simply went out and tossed the ball around with his teammates. It wasn’t until two years ago that he finally learned how to read defenses and use his talents.
Now The Out-of-Door Academy freshman is taking on a new task — one that has given the words “learning curve” a whole new meaning.
Strawderman was named ODA’s starting quarterback last month, replacing former quarterback Evan Wilson who walked on to the University of South Florida.
“It’s an honor,” Strawderman says. “It’s a big responsibility. It’s fun. There are not a lot of people who get to experience being a freshman and starting.”
Strawderman made his first varsity start in the Thunder’s spring game versus Northside Christian, and, since then, he’s only continued to develop.
But Strawderman will be the first one to tell you that replacing a quarterback who threw for more than 6,300 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career is no easy task.
“It’s big shoes to fill,” Strawderman says. “But you have to set goals for yourself — I have high goals for myself.”
Strawderman and the Thunder opened their season with a 38-9 loss to Bradenton Christian in Strawderman’s first regular season varsity game. It was by no means the outcome Strawderman had hoped for, but with a team made up primarily of underclassmen, Strawderman is using every game as an opportunity to learn.
“There are so many things to learn, but I love to learn,” he says. “Right now, I’m just trying to focus on going out and doing my thing and playing the game that I love.”
Caulin McNeal knew his time would come.
After spending his childhood yearning to be the quarterback, McNeal finally got the opportunity last season as a backup to former quarterback Hunter DeWitt.
Over the course of the season, under the guidance of DeWitt, McNeal learned the importance of preparation and how to be a leader.
Now, after spending a year as a backup quarterback, the Sarasota High senior is adjusting to his role as the Sailors’ new signal caller.
And, so far, McNeal has Sarasota headed in the right direction. After winning the team’s Kickoff Classic 37-7, McNeal threw two touchdowns in the Sailors’ 49-18 victory over Booker Aug. 30.
“I like being in control and the leader of the team,” McNeal says. “The quarterback is always the position everyone wants to be on the field, and I’m lucky enough to actually be it.”
It might have only been the first game of the season, but McNeal has the Sailors one win closer to their goal of finishing the season with a winning record for the first time in seven years and ultimately reaching the postseason for the first time since 2004.
“I like it,” McNeal says of the pressure. “It gives you something to work toward. Expectations are high, but I tend to play better when I have to be someone. I may not be the biggest or the fastest quarterback, but I can see the game.”
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