To Quarterback is to Lead

This year the quarterback will determine to a great extent the success of our local football teams

By Jeff Epperly

Of all the positions to play in football, there is one position that smells, tastes, and even looks like a position of leadership, and it is the quarterback position. The quarterback in football is all about leadership. Not only does the player filling this role have to lead his fellow teammates but he also must have a certain amount of athletic ability combined with strong mental skill girded by toughness and unwavering resolve.

This year, more than ever, the quarterback will determine to a great extent the success of our local football teams (Bridwell of Columbia Falls, Gilman of Glacier, Johnson of Flathead, Kastella of Whitefish, and Emslie of Bigfork). Now, don’t get me wrong, anytime you have outstanding talent at any position it will help your overall team play. In fact, without solid line play, the quarterback, no matter how skilled, will have a difficult time doing anything effective for his team. But let’s be honest, the guy with the football is the guy who dictates much of what happens in football. And the guy with the football is the quarterback.

It is amazing how this position has developed since the days of Walter Camp at Yale University.  He was a rugby player who modified traditional English rugby football by introducing new positions into the game that eventually transformed his version of rugby into what we know now as American Football. In fact, it was Camp in 1880 who first coined the term “quarterback.”

Interestingly, the fullback was the back who received the ball to “run with it” (the main focus of rugby). Halfway between the lineman and the fullback was the halfback. Camp then introduced another back into the equation when he placed a back halfway between the halfback and the line. He called this back the quarterback since he was a “quarter of the way back” behind the line in relationship to the fullback. Initially, the quarterback received the ball from a player on the line and then he handed it off to either the fullback or halfback. After he handed it off, they “ran with it” and he then blocked for one of these two backs.

But there is one more element that developed over time, which is the forward pass. I think this is what we most commonly associate the quarterback position with in terms of what they do. This introduction was instituted in 1906. It was slow to get air born but eventually teams began to implement the forward pass. Two quarterbacks in the late 1930’s, Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins and Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears, began to throw the football all over the field, literally changing the way people thought about how to play football.

Since then, this basic understanding of what a quarterback does has continued to develop. Fast forward to today and the quarterback is the play caller, decision maker, ball handler, and de facto leader of the offense. He hands the ball off, runs with the ball, pitches the ball, throws the ball, and even catches the ball.  He is the trigger man who leads the other 10 down the field to score points.

With all that said, leadership is now the quarterback position. When we watch our high school teams play, we expect certain things from those that play this role for their team. Yes, they must do all physical things quarterbacks do but more importantly they must lead. They must make good decisions. They must take care of that football. They must get everyone on the same page. They must read the defense. And most importantly they must make plays for their team. I am rooting for the local young men who play this position. May they lead their respective teams down the field and up the standings and into the playoffs.