Caledonia, Hamilton QBs will be center of attention

August 27, 2009 1:17:00 PM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


HAMILTON -- Brandon Bell admits he is still figuring everything out. 


You can''t blame the Caledonia High School sophomore. He has had to move to a new position, he has had to adjust to a new coach and a new offense, and he had had to shoulder the expectations and the responsibility for being a team leader. 


That''s a lot to digest, even for the most experienced player. 


But Bell is growing more comfortable in his transition from fullback to quarterback every day. 


And you can tell from the license plate on his truck -- QB7 -- that Bell likes the thought of being his team''s quarterback. 


Tonight, he will take to the field for the first time when Caledonia plays host to Saltillo at 7:30 in its season opener. 


"Coach has taught me a lot," Bell said. "It is hard leading the team sometimes, but you have to do it. I think we''ll be pretty good this year."Bell isn''t the only sophomore quarterback making adjustments early in the season. Austin Welch has taken over the quarterback duties at Hamilton High after junior Chase Reeves opted not to play football this season and senior Cole Johnson broke his hand in practice last week. 


Welch and the Lions had a rough go of it last week in a 35-0 loss to Weir in their season opener, but Hamilton coach  


The victory catapulted Weir into the No. 1 spot in Class 1A in the Associated Press'' rankings for the state of Mississippi. 


Both quarterbacks will have a lot of adjustments to make during the season. From injuries to blitzing defenses, there are countless things that a quarterback has to process in a split second. 


For Bell, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, his move is like going from the minor leagues to the majors. He played one game at quarterback on Caledonia High''s junior varsity team last season before spending the majority of the season with the varsity squad. 


Bell''s task this season is to help Caledonia high coach David Boykin transform a program that went 1-9 last season. The Confederates used an I-formation attack last season and have moved to a spread attack that Boykin hopes will enable the team to exploit its athletes. 


To accomplish that goal, Boykin said Bell will have to run the show. 


"He''s coming along well," Boykin said. "He''s not a vocal leader. He will be a leader by example who works hard and does things the right way. I am looking forward to coaching him this year and in the next two years. He is going to be a talented young man." 


Boykin said Bell''s size gives him confidence that he will be able to handle the wear and tear a quarterback in his system could take. He believes Bell has the intelligence and the calm demeanor a quarterback will need to assume leadership of a team. 


"A kid that big is going to give us new avenues that you look for," Boykin said. "He is going to be able to throw the ball and he can make all of the throws. When we start making zone reads if he makes the right reads he is going to be successful at it. He is going to have to step up to the plate. We''re going to go as far as our quarterback is going to take us." 


Bell said reading defenses and knowing his receivers has been the biggest re-adjustment in his move to quarterback. He was pleased with his performance in a jamboree that featured competition against Ruleville and Kemper County. 


Bell said that taste of action encouraged him that he will have a number of weapons he will have at his disposal in Boykin''s spread attack. 


"It is really different, but coach has helped me get back into the groove of it," Bell said. "I think I have it down again." 


Bell said former Caledonia High quarterback Tyler Aldridge has helped him learn the playbook and to feel more comfortable at quarterback. He said his studies have helped him develop a good feel for what the Confederates will try to do on offense. 


"Edmund (Elizenberry) is a really fast receiver, and Gavin (Coleman) will be helping us out a lot," Bell said. "I just want to get everybody ready for everything and to help everyone become a team and do everything as a team." 


Boykin said the best athlete won''t be a good player unless he studies. So far, though, he has been impressed with Bell''s work ethic, which is why he believes his sophomore will succeed. 


"He knows the playbook as well as I do," Boykin said. "I am going to put the out there who can lead this team and the guy who I think is the most qualified candidate for the job. I have every confidence in the world that this kid can do the job." 


Hamilton coach Ray Weeks believes Welch can lead his team. 


"He is a smart kid and he has caught on to the system real well," Weeks said. "He had some first-game jitters and made some mistakes, but he has corrected those. For the most part, I am pleased with where he is. He works hard and, like I say, he catches on real well. He is growing into it like you would expect." 


Welch, whose brother, Mason, played with the Lions last season and is now a member of the Itawamba Community College football team, feels his throwing accuracy and his ability to run the ball will help him. He said he will continue to work hard to improve his ability to read defenses. 


"It''s a learning experience," said Welch, who is 6-1 and 187 pounds. "This is the first year I have done this since the seventh grade, and I am still working on reading defenses. It helps me that I have two senior wide receivers (Kevin McCartney and Dylan Earnest) and a really good offensive line. They help me out a lot. We also have two good backs, so we just have to put all of the puzzle pieces together." 


Welch said last week''s game against Weir was "an awakening." He said the speed of the game was an adjustment moving up from junior varsity. He said it took one good hit for him to clear the nerves and to get used to the bigger stage. 


"It has been wild," Welch said. "When we found out Chase wasn''t going to play, coach said we have to find two quarterbacks. I went from playing slot wide receiver to working with the quarterbacks. 


Me and Cole have been working all summer and we started to get used to it in practice. It has just been a wild experience." 


Johnson broke a bone in his hand last Monday. Welch realized right then he had moved to No. 1 on the depth chart. 


"I knew there was no guessing now and that I had to suck it up and do it," Welch said. 


Weeks said the game is starting to slow down for Welch, will enable him to see his options. It has been a big transition for Welch, who also played on the JV team and played some defensive back with the varsity team last season.  


With plenty of senior experience around him, Weeks hopes Welch doesn''t feel like he has to win the game himself. 


"We don''t want to put him in a position where he is not comfortable," Week said. "We''re not limiting what he can do, but we want to be careful with that."

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.