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As a handful of area teams have found out this season, sometimes a football program is only as good as its backup quarterback.
Thanks to injuries several teams in Southwest Florida have had to turn to their second-string signal callers this year. Luckily they were ready, and it showed Friday at three backup quarterbacks steered their teams to victory.
"We always say he's just one play away," South Fort Myers coach Grant Redhead said of backup Keith Smith. "The kid's well prepared, and he's a competitor."
With starter Andrew Dailidonis nursing a neck strain, Smith started for South in a 14-3 win over Fort Myers. Another reserve filled in for Immokalee, where Louinelson Celian replaced the injured Tshumbi Johnson in the Indians' 30-10 win over Cape Coral.
At Gulf Coast, sophomore Nick Schmidt has started all year after an injury in the preseason to Zimon Brennan. On Friday, Schmidt earned his second victory under center as the Sharks beat Lely 3-0.
Smith stepped into the most pressure-packed of games in his first varsity start. However the sophomore didn't flinch in the Class 6A-District 11 showdown with Fort Myers, even tossing the go-ahead touchdown with six minutes left.
"The kid really didn't show any jitters," Redhead said. "He was excited about the opportunity. I felt good about it knowing he was excited, not nervous."
South and Immokalee have established starters this season, but both teams take the time to develop their second string quarterbacks in practice. Redhead and Indians coach Jerrod Ackley said their backups get a good share of repetitions with the offense each week, which paid dividends Friday.
Ackley was most impressed with Celian's resiliency. The junior made a few mistakes early, including two interceptions, but settled down after. Celian threw a touchdown pass and ran for another against Cape Coral.
"He responded well," Ackley said. "He did a good job staying steady."
Even though it was Celian's first start, he had experience coming into Friday. He quarterbacked Immokalee's junior varsity team the past two seasons and saw varsity action in Week 5 against Gulf Coast. Celian threw for 66 yards and a touchdown against the Sharks.
"He was kind of a known quantity for us," Ackley said. "We knew his strengths and weaknesses."
Even if a team has a reliable backup, losing the starting quarterback can disrupt a team mentally and emotionally. Bringing in a new guy changes the rhythm of an offense, and if the starter was a captain, leadership can suffer.
"It's not easy to go from an upperclassman to an underclassman," said Gulf Coast coach Pete Fominaya, who lost returning starter Zimon Brennan in the preseason to an injury. "We've asked (Schmidt) to go out and be a manager. We've tried to put him in the right situations to be in position to be successful."
In his first year on varsity, Schmidt might not have the best passing stats. He's just 12-of-51 for 155 yards, but Fominaya said his young quarterback is getting better at controlling the offense.
Smith and Celian had big shoes to fill. Dailidonis has a 13-4 record as South's starting quarterback the past two seasons, while South Florida recruit Johnson is in his fourth year starting for Immokalee and was an all-state selection last year.
The success of the two backups shows the importance of having an able second-stringer. First Baptist learned that lesson this season as well.
While Corey Todd, another four-year starer, was not with the team for two games for undisclosed reasons, senior Jonah Bueltel filled in. Bueltel led the Lions to two victories, including a win over Class 2A-District 6 opponent Southwest Florida Christian.
"You never know when that situation will occur," Ackley said about losing a quarterback. "If you don't have a backup plan and if you aren't ready for that backup plan, you're looking at a poor offensive output."
Smith and Celian impressed their coaches, but it looks both will revert to their reserve roles Friday. South expects Dailidonis to return, while Immokalee should have Johnson back from an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Their starters return, but both Redhead and Ackley feel a little more secure knowing they have reliable Plan Bs. And with Dailidonis and Johnson graduating after this season, both programs are optimistic about next year.
"We make sure we try to develop (Smith)," Redhead said. "We've got to get our future ready. If we don't give him any reps, he's not going to help us next year."