First-year quarterbacks making an impact in DuPage County
Playing quarterback isn't like riding a bike.
It's not easy stepping away from perhaps the most important position in sports -- even for just a season -- and finding that groove again behind center. But that's exactly what some of DuPage County's quarterbacks are doing this football season.
Some are actually playing the position for the first time and thriving as they learn.
This week's Eyes on Five looks at the impact some of the area's first-year quarterbacks are making.
Willowbrook improved to 5-0 last week with a key West Suburban Gold win over Hinsdale South.
At the heart of the victory -- again -- was junior quarterback Sam Tumilty.
Tumilty was up on varsity as a sophomore, but it was to fill a spot in the Warriors' defensive secondary. A quarterback at the freshman level, he left the position behind for a year to help the team win the Gold title and advance to the state quarterfinals for a second straight season.
His return to quarterback created instant impact.
Last week was perhaps his best performance as Tumilty threw for 217 yards and rushed for 90, accounting for the team's first two touchdowns. That included a 15-yard pass to older brother Scott.
Considering how much talent Willowbrook turned over from last season, Sam Tumilty's emergence was critical. He had to pick up from where he left off two years ago for the Warriors to be successful.
And, credit to him, Tumilty's done it.
New is old:
New coach. New system.
That's what faced Downers Grove North this season with the departure of longtime coach John Wander and the hiring of Joe Horeni, who left Highland Park for the Trojans.
Horeni installed a new offense and turned to an old quarterback to run it. Junior Drew Cassens was a varsity defensive back as a sophomore who, like Tumilty, was a freshman quarterback.
After a season-opening loss to Buffalo Grove, Cassens settled in behind center. He helped the Trojans beat Leyden and Proviso West before the grind of the West Suburban Silver schedule struck in losses to Hinsdale Central and Glenbard West.
Cassens is an imposing figure as a quarterback, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing about 200 pounds. The offense revolves around him, and the Trojans hope to make a late playoff push with Cassens leading the way.
He's among the top-five rushers in DuPage County with 579 yards, although he's only thrown for about 300 yards. Still, defenses know that to stop Downers North they must stop Cassens.
For a junior, that's high praise.
Back to back:
As a sophomore last season, Hinsdale South's Marquese Garrett set himself up to be among the area's top running backs by rushing for more than 900 yards.
Then he switched to quarterback in the off-season.
The Hornets were shut out by Kaneland in the season opener, but it was still a tremendous learning experience for the first-time signalcaller.
"That first week we were still trying to find ourselves," said Hornets coach Mike Barry. "Now the game is really slowing down for Marquese. I'm pretty excited with where we're at right now."
Garrett, who's rushed for more than 500 yards, still primarily runs the ball in the Hornets' offense. With senior Devin Smith excelling at Garrett's old running back spot, it's freed up Garrett to ease into his new role and allowed him to develop a burgeoning passing combination with receiver Terrill McCray.
Barry is confident Garrett will continue to improve as the season progresses.
If Hinsdale South's season progresses into the Class 6A playoffs, he'll make the Hornets a dangerous team.
The next group of DuPage County quarterbacks is already waiting in the wings. Like the players mentioned above, many are waiting at other positions.
It's an especially intriguing wait at Naperville Central.
With Western Michigan-bound Payton Thorne -- perhaps the state's best senior quarterback -- entrenched behind center for the Redhawks, sophomore Bolingbrook transfer Sam Jackson shifted to receiver.
What's the upside for Jackson? After quarterbacking Bolingbrook in last season's playoffs as a freshman, he garnered an offer from Minnesota.
"There aren't many teams in the state where he wouldn't be playing quarterback this season," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "He just happens to be playing behind maybe the best quarterback in the state."
Jackson has developed into an explosive receiver while learning the position. Last week he had 4 catches, all touchdowns, for 102 yards to give him 25 catches, 451 yards and 7 scores on the season.
He's also getting a different perspective on the offense, which should help him heading into his junior season at quarterback.
DuPage County's six remaining unbeaten teams are now playoff eligible.
The list includes Glenbard East, IC Catholic Prep, Lisle, Montini, Waubonsie Valley and Willowbrook -- six teams that'll likely spread across five classes in the postseason.
A sixth win guarantees qualification.
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