New A-K Valley quarterbacks face challenge of leading their offenses
Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:51 PM
Quarterback is one of the most complicated positions in football, and it takes a special type of player to bear all of the responsibilities that make an offense successful.
Throughout the offseason, nine coaches from the Alle-Kiski Valley were tasked with finding a new player to fill those needs in their offense for the 2019 season.
Some coaches decided to hold quarterback competitions during camp. Learning the position takes time, though, and five teams already have an understanding of who will be under center when the season opens.
Strong arms, natural leadership, poise under pressure and athleticism are qualities their coaches attributed to their new signal-callers. Each is unique to his offense.
But no matter the situation, all are looking forward to leading their team on Friday nights.
Like most teams in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Freeport was left with big shoes to fill after the graduation of its starting quarterback.
Throughout the summer, senior Garrett Schaffhauser started to fill those shoes for coach John Gaillot. The longtime coach said there is a lot Schaffhauser does right when it comes to playing quarterback, and a lot of it has to do with how he carries himself on the field.
“He reminds me of a lot of Ryan Weigold, a quarterback from our 2015 team,” Gaillot said. “He’s an athletic kid who leads by example but also leads with his voice. They have the same type of mentality when it comes to that aspect. Garrett plays at a high level, and he expects everyone to play at that same level with him.”
Heading into his final high school season, Schaffhauser has attempted only five passes. He completed one of them for 17 yards last season.
Though he lacks experience at the position, he has shown the ability to take on a new position each year.
He started on defense as a sophomore. Then, he played both ways as a junior.
So this year will be no different for him, aside from the responsibilities.
“It’s definitely more stressful than any other position,” Schaffhauser said. “You need to know everything that’s going on all over the field. You need to know where each person is going to be and what route they are running, and there’s really no room for error.”
Along with a strong arm, Schaffhauser is a bruiser for a quarterback. He is 6-feet tall and built like a linebacker. Gaillot said Schaffhauser doesn’t have blazing speed, but he is a tough, hard-nosed player who runs well, which adds another element to the offense.
A year after losing in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs, the Yellowjackets are looking to return to the postseason, and Schaffhauser is optimistic about their chances.
“We have really high expectations after how this summer went,” Schaffhauser said. “We feel like we could do really big things and make a run in playoffs this year.”
Shawn Liotta didn’t have a natural quarterback for his fast-paced, no-huddle offense when he took over the Burrell football program last year. A year later, Liotta believes he has the player who will allow his offense to take off.
Alex Arledge is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior who transferred from Central Catholic. He has a natural frame for the position, can make a variety of throws and has a strong arm to boot. When asked about what Arledge could do for his offense, Liotta couldn’t keep from smiling.
“He’s got a big-time arm. He can really throw the ball,” said Liotta, the sense of excitement apparent in his voice. “He’s going to be a very dynamic player for us in our type of system.”
Since he started playing football, Arledge never has played another position. Having that type of familiarity explains his ease in the pocket, his ability to read defenses and his capability to learn an offense as complicated as Liotta’s.
After a few months of summer practice and having the opportunity to build a relationship with his receivers, Arledge believes he won’t have a problem picking it up before the season starts.
“The offense is very exciting to be a part of. It’s one of the best parts about being here,” Arledge said. “It has me the most excited I think. It’s a lot to grasp and handle, but I think I’ll be able to get a good handle on it before the season starts.”
Arledge won’t lack for capable targets. Seth Fischbach, who led the team in receiving last season with 484 yards and five touchdowns, and Logan Phillips, who produced 1,061 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns, return for their senior seasons.
“I think with this type of offense and the weapons that we have on that side of the ball, we are going to be able to do a lot of damage to defenses this year,” Arledge said.
For the past few years, Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo has had his eyes on a player who he thought could bring a lot to his team.
“He’s always wanted me to play, and he’s always had a lot of faith in me,” junior Cayden Quinn said. “But last year, I had a broken hand, and the year before, I had a broken ankle. I’ve always wanted to play.”
Colosimo’s wish was granted this season as Quinn finally made the decision to play football in his junior year.
The longtime coach already has seen a lot of qualities that could make Quinn a solid quarterback for the next two years. But there also are a few things that could make or break him.
“He has great arm strength, and he has no bad habits right now because he’s never played. So whatever bad habits he picks up, we’re giving him,” Colosimo said. “The biggest question is how he will take a hit.”
It has been some time since Quinn stepped onto a football field.
He said he played flag football when he was young.
“I have been hit before. I play backyard football, so I’m used to getting hit,” Quinn said. “But I do understand it’s not the same with the pads on, and I don’t want to take anything away from the type of talent we’re going to be going up against.”
Even with Quinn’s lack of experience, Colosimo said he already has started to see his first-year quarterback improve on reading defenses and finding receivers.
Quinn said he knows learning the position will take time, and he is not looking to set expectations too high for himself.
He is focused on improving.
“I’m not looking for anything big in the first year,” Quinn said. “I am just looking forward to improving throughout the year, staying humble and, hopefully, getting a few wins.”
The best situation for any quarterback is to have a solid offensive line in front of him. Riverview junior Ryan Aber said he has that luxury.
“We have a strong offensive and defensive line with three seniors,” Aber said. “It definitely gives me a little extra sense of confidence. I’m going to miss them next year.”
After not playing his freshman year, Aber returned to the spot as a sophomore.
He did a little bit of everything for coach Todd Massack, even completing his only pass attempt for a touchdown.
Between last year and this summer, Massack said Aber has displayed a strong arm and a solid understanding for the position. But, as with any player, there always is room for improvement.
“He’s still learning the game of football, and he’s still learning the technique of being a quarterback,” Massack said. “But he has the qualities of a quarterback, and he’s been improving throughout the summer.”
While Aber will benefit from a strong offensive line, he also will benefit from an offense tailored to run the ball. As a former offensive lineman, Massack said he likes to run the ball to set up play action and quick passes, which is a type of offense that can benefit a new quarterback.
“I’m excited. We’ve moved some things around and changed up our offense a little, and I’m excited with the point of view were working from,” Aber said.
As the scout-team quarterback last fall, Springdale sophomore Legend Ausk said he had an idea it would be his job to lose after multiyear starter Josh Jones graduated.
But rather than rest on his laurels, Ausk got to work in the offseason.
“I wasn’t able to start last year, so I have been working pretty hard in order to accomplish that goal this season,” Ausk said.
The 6-foot, 160-pound quarterback attended a few camps this summer in order to receive further instruction and enhance his abilities as a player and a leader. That work has started to pay off.
Springdale coach Seth Napierkowski said he wanted to see Ausk improve in a few ways before he handed him the reins this season. He wanted him to start to understand the game by reading defenses and making correct decisions on where the ball needs to go. But he also wanted to see him start to slow the game down.
“If he’s able to just slow the game down mentally and not get too overwhelmed with what’s going on around him, I think he has an opportunity to be a really good varsity quarterback,” Napierkowski said.
Not many quarterbacks get the opportunity to start as a sophomore. But after making several improvements over the last year, Ausk said he is excited to gain experience that will help him grow even further as a quarterback.
“I think it’s really good for me to get that experience early,” Ausk said. “It’s a lot better to start younger, and there’s a lot of hype on my name so I gotta do whatever I can to live up to it.”
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .