June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Hornets’ Phelps next up at QB

Highland quarterback Blake Phelps isn’t trying to be the next Bruce Kinsey. He’s trying to be the first Blake Phelps.
That’s a good thing, because all Kinsey did last season was throw for 2,021 yards and 21 touchdowns and rush for 1,227 yards and 15 scores as Highland went 13-1, won a Suburban League championship and advanced to the Division II state semifinals.
“At Highland, we have a policy that it’s next man up,” the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Phelps said. “Once it’s your turn, you just fill the role and do what needs to be done.”
A starter at safety last season, it’s now Phelps’ turn to step up and direct Highland’s read-option offense. With a good arm, 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a 3.34 grade-point average, not to mention an undefeated season while playing quarterback for the junior varsity as a sophomore, the senior certainly possesses a lot of the necessary attributes.
“He has good size,” Hornets coach Tom Lombardo said. “And he’s fast. He’s a real good runner and he reads (defenses) well. That’s the stuff we want to do on offense. He’s more athletic than (Kinsey) in terms of doing those things.
“Where he’s growing is his experience playing quarterback. He took a few snaps last year, but the games were already decided.”
At some point this season, Phelps will likely take a snap from center with the Hornets down three, deep in their own territory and the clock ticking in the fourth quarter. There will also probably come a time when he throws an early interception and Highland’s opponent goes in for a score.
How Phelps will react in those situations can’t be known for sure, but Lombardo has confidence his new quarterback will respond in a positive manner.
“That’s what we’ll have to wait and see on,” the veteran coach said. “So far, the signs are positive, but you really can’t tell until he gets in the situation. When to take off and run, when to throw the ball away, with those intangibles, Bruce Kinsey rarely made a mistake.
“How Blake responds to the pressure of the game after something not so good happens, it’s hard to tell right now. But all signs indicate he’s growing in that area.”
Where Phelps appears to have an edge over Kinsey is running the ball. He’s faster and more elusive, which could lead to some big plays on the ground, but he’ll have to make the right decision first.
“Bruce was his own person,” Phelps said of Kinsey, the first two-time Gazette MVP in football and a first-team All-Ohio pick as a senior. “He was really good at executing. I’ve tried to pick up that philosophy as much as I can, because that’s one of the most important attributes you can have as a quarterback.
“From Bruce, I learned a lot about execution, attention to detail, what the defense is trying to do and how you can exploit that, and the importance of film study.”
Phelps has the added bonus of having played safety last season — he could see spot duty there this year — which allowed him to survey the entire field prior to the snap.
“I feel like I understand both defense and offense and what they’re trying to do with certain schemes,” he said. “Playing safety helps me understand the coverages better. I know what’s weak in certain coverages, what’s strong. It helps me identify which pass I should be throwing in certain situations.”
With guys like wide receiver Coltin Kinsey and tight end Conor McCune to throw to and running backs like Nick Corvo and Grant Wallace to hand the ball off to, Phelps will have plenty of help on offense.
“What’s cool about (the read option) is there can be one play that we’re running, but there are four different options that come out of it,” Phelps said. “You have to understand how to run it and how to play it off the defense and how to execute it.
“There’s pressure at every position. Each person has a role that needs to be done. If that’s not done, nothing is going to work. Some people look at the quarterback more, so there’s more pressure there, but all the positions are equally important.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.