E.A. Sports Today

‘I’m ready for the challenge’

UPDATE: Freshman QB McQueen to make first varsity start in Wellborn’s quarterfinal playoff game

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Until a few days ago, Austin McQueen’s typical week with the Wellborn football team consisted of serving as the scout team quarterback, managing the B-Team offense and cheering on the varsity as an emergency reserve on Friday nights.

That all changed on Monday when he got the call that in another situation would not have been welcome.

“Coach wants to see you — and bring your playbook.”

In an NFL training camp that message would have been a prelude to sending him home. But in this case, it was the set up to handing him the keys to the varsity offense.

Because of the fallout from the unpleasantness that sent senior Landon Machristie and five of his teammates to the sideline, McQueen has been elevated to starting quarterback for the Panthers’ third-round playoff game against Madison Academy.

It’s pretty heady stuff. Freshman quarterback … first varsity start … first third-round playoff game – at home – in 19 years … top-ranked opponent and two-time reigning state champions.

“It’s really surprising,” he said. “I never pictured myself playing quarterback in the third round of the playoffs.

“Usually I’m focused on the game, but not as much as I am this week. I’m usually just down on the sideline, but I’ve got to prepare myself for this game now.

“It’s just unbelievable. I’m ready for it though. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m nervous about it, but I’m ready for it, too.”

There wasn’t much ceremony to the promotion. The Panthers needed to make some quick decisions after the AHSAA completed its investigation of the brawl after the Oakman game. Coach Jeff Smith called McQueen in and said “you’re making your first start against the No. 1 team in 3A so just go do it.”

A few hours later, the freshman was out on the practice field, trying to absorb a bunch of new plays at his disposal and get acquainted with the players who share his huddle. Luckily, he has played with most of them at some point in his career.

He is one of several Panthers in new situations this week. Pat Harris, McQueen’s B-team running back, has been elevated to replace leading rusher Kevin Mixon. Jake Thrasher might have been in the quarterback equation, but he’s needed at tight end for Corri Tignor and middle linebacker for Machristie.

“Even though we lost some really good athletes, we still have some good athletes around me,” McQueen said.

He’ll be leaning on them heavily this week — and they’re lining up to help him get through it. Fullback D.J. Rhoden has been helpful particularly getting down the plays and timing snap counts. Machristie has provided words of encouragement and support.

“I think I can help him a lot because last year I was in the same position he was as a freshman starting on varsity,” wingback Jordan Montgomery said. “Goodness, I was nervous as all get out, but I had my seniors, and they told me you don’t have to be a senior to be a leader and that’s kind of what I stuck with throughout the whole season.

“I talked to him yesterday because he was a little nervous about making his passes. I told him you’ve got to calm down because you’re going to be our starting quarterback. You’re a great quarterback, I know you’re nervous. I was nervous too but we’re going to be right here with you fighting along on Friday night so you’re not alone. We’re with you.”

It’s not as if McQueen is unproven running an offense or managing a game; he just hasn’t done it on the varsity level. Late in his B-Team season he directed a late-game scoring drive to beat Saks. He had six touchdown passes and several touchdown runs.

“I’ve got confidence in him because I think he can do it,” Rhoden said. “I’m behind him 100 percent.”

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