By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
Many times, when a high school football team loses its star quarterback, there is a sense of uncertainty or even concern with what the future of the position has in store.
That’s not the case going into the upcoming season for Durant High, where rising senior Zach Stephenson or junior transfer Trey Vandegrift hope to fill the void of Nick Fabrizio, now with the Naval Academy.
Stephenson, who transferred to Durant last year from Alabama, has been splitting time this summer with Vandegrift, after serving as Fabrizio’s backup last fall.
“I’m feeling a little pressure, just because it’s my first year where I could be starting with a new team, but it’s not terrible,” said Stephenson, who is fairly new to the position, not taking the role behind center until high school.
Although he only received limited playing time last year as Fabrizio’s backup, Stephenson does bring a year of varsity experience, starting for Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala., as a sophomore. While he will be competing in the competitive 7A District 8 with Durant, Stephenson is no stranger to tough competition. Oak Mountain was in the highest classification (6A) of the Alabama High School Athletic Association and regularly competed against some of the state’s best teams, including Hoover, Pelham and Mountain Brook, among others.
“We played some really solid teams in one of the toughest divisions in Alabama, so I think that has helped me be ready for what I’ll see here (at Durant),” he said.
Vandegrift also brings varsity playing experience. The rising junior transferred to Durant after serving as the starting quarterback at Strawberry Crest last season. Vandegrift has been working hard in the offseason and got some quality work in last weekend during the Bright House Sports Network 9Route 7-on-7 Team Tournament.
“We feel pretty good about the two quarterbacks we have right now,” Durant head coach Mike Gottman said. “I have been open with both of them that the job is up for grabs.”
Although Gottman admitted it is nice to have two capable prospects at the position, he said the probability of splitting time isn’t likely.
The biggest adjustment for Stephenson has been the transition from the spread passing attack he was a part of at Oak Mountain to the more run-based option attack of Durant’s base offense.
“We threw the ball a lot when I was in Alabama; we had good receivers but we didn’t have the biggest line,” he said. “Here, our line’s fantastic, so we can run the ball a lot more with a pro-style option offense, but we still pass a little bit too.”
While Stephenson is more of a pure passer compared to Fabrizio, who is regarded as an option quarterback, Durant offensive coordinator Mike Bradley said he will fit in perfectly to what the Cougars want to do this season.
“He brings a new dimension to our offense, so we’re excited about that,” Bradley said.
Bradley explained teams would stack eight or nine guys in the box to defend Fabrizio and the rest of the talented Durant backfield last season. While most of that backfield returns, Bradley said with Stephenson behind center, the Cougars will be able to open the playbook more.
“Zach is a good passer and makes good decisions with reading defenses,” he said. “Running the ball will still be a big part of what we want to do, but having him at quarterback will make defenses more concerned with our passing attack, which will balance us out more as an offense.”
When it comes to running the football, Bradley said what Stephenson may lack in speed, he makes up for in efficiency.
“He makes good reads and pitches, and if defenses sleep on him, he can eat up some yards,” Bradley said, comparing him to former Durant standout Je’Twan Smith.
According to Bradley, Stephenson is a confident leader on and off the field and regularly gets the guys together for unscheduled practices.
He believes that with either Stephenson or Vandegrift behind center, the Cougars should be successful offensively.
“We averaged around 30 points per game last year, and I think we should be able to match that if not better this season,” Bradley said.
Stephenson said the transition to Durant has gone smoothly. He also has built a strong relationship with his offensive line, an important trait of a quarterback at any level.
“They’re my boys,” he said. “I like hanging out with them, and they protect me, so that’s important,” Stephenson said.
With Stephenson having a year left and Vandegrift having two, Bradley shares Gottman’s thought in the security of the position.
“We’re excited to see what the future holds at the quarterback position,” he said.
Contact Matt Mauney at email@example.com.