December 24, 2013 10:33:41 AM
HAMILTON -- Hamilton High School senior quarterback Quinshay Heard was ready to make the most of his second opportunity.
After suffering a rotator cuff tear during his junior campaign, Heard returned to quarterback this season and led the Lions on a historic run.
This season, Hamilton won nine games, including the school's first Mississippi High School Activities Association playoff game since 1986.
For his accomplishments, Heard is The Dispatch's Small School All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
"This was a fun season," Heard said. "We worked hard in the weight room and we worked hard in practice. We knew we had enough players coming back that we could have a good team."
In 2011, Hamilton placed second in region play and hosted a first-round playoff game. Also a winner of nine games, that team was upset in the opening round by Williams-Sullivan.
In 2012, the magic quickly faded as Heard suffered a labrum tear in the third game of the season and needed surgery. The Lions finished 4-8.
"We knew we had a chance to turn the corner again this season," Hamilton coach Ray Weeks said. "Moving down to Class 1A helped. However, we also we knew we had a good nucleus of returning players.
"Quinshay is a special talent. When you saw how hard he rehabbed to come back, you felt like he would have a special season."
After being named the stater at quarterback in 2012, Heard was afraid his time away from the field might mean a lost position.
"I was nervous going into the year because I didn't know what to expect," Heard said. "I like playing quarterback because that means you are the leader. After I found out, I was going to get to play there again, I knew I had to step up and lead. I thought we could have a good year, so then we had to go out and prove it."
Heard used his dynamic playmaking ability to spark the Lions on the ground and through the air. While his ability to work enhance the skills of his teammates was critical, he found a special bond with sophomore wide receiver Keshon Heard, his younger brother.
"I had been waiting for a long time to play with him on this level, so it was special," Heard said. "He has lots of speed. The read option was one of our favorites plays. We always knew we could go to that. When the other team's defensive end came up, they were in trouble because Keshon has great speed, but he also has some great moves."
While the read option was a staple of Hamilton's offense, Heard found his leadership skills were just as important as his playmaking skills. On defense, Heard played defensive back and free safety. He enjoyed free safety because "it allowed (him) a chance to see the entire field and guess what play is coming."
The leadership on both sides of the ball helped set the tone for a team that played well together.
"We never argued," Heard said. "We knew if we worked together as a team, we could be pretty good. We just always found a way to get it done. In the huddle, I was always trying to be a motivator.
"I would tell the O line they were doing a good job of blocking, or I would talk to a receiver about his routes. My job was to motivate and make sure we were in the right position to be successful."
Weeks noticed those traits when he gave Heard a starting position as a ninth-grader.
"He is a good athlete," Weeks said. "He can make so many good things happen on the field. We moved him to quarterback in 11th grade because we wanted him to get as many touches as possible.
"As he started to play quarterback more, you could see the leadership skills come to the forefront."
Heard learned how to be a leader at home. He played as a freshman and as a sophomore with his older brother, Zarrat Sims, who also played quarterback.
His father, Zarrat, also helped his son establish the work ethic and desire to be the best.
"My dad always taught me to have five things - confidence, dignity, faith, compassion and character," Heard said. "He always taught me if you have those five things you can be successful as a man. He also taught me never to give up on my dreams."
Heard is concentrating on his duties playing small forward for the Hamilton basketball team. In the spring, Heard will run short distance and relay events for the track and field team.
After that, he hopes to put his father's advice to good use as he chases the dream of playing college football.
"I am feeling my way around and seeing what all is out there," Heard said. "I would like to play football on the college level. That would mean a lot to me. I enjoy basketball and track because they keep me busy. The biggest challenge is staying in shape for each sport, since football shape, basketball shape, and track shape are all different."
As Heard prepares for graduation, he knows his mother, Marsha, and his grandmother, Elois Sims, will be along for the ride.
"My mother always calls me after every game," Heard said. "She always tell me to remember she loves me win or lose. She also reminds me to play the game for God. My grandmother has been a huge supporter, too. She can't get out much because she is always watching my nieces. She keeps up though and always wants to know what is going on."
Grandmother had a lot going on to keep up with this season.
The good news for Weeks and the rest of the Lions, Keshon Heard has two more years to keep the good memories going.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
2. Ole Miss earns NCAA bid; Southern Mississippi left out COLLEGE SPORTS