Cearley takes over as Panthers’ starting quarterback
By Keith Sparks
The Panthers are bringing back quite a few returning varsity players from last year’s team, but there will be a new face in arguably the most important position in football.
Following Brenden Ketchem’s shift to linebacker after starting at quarterback last year, junior Jacob Cearley is the next man up.
Cearley spent last year as the JV football team’s starting quarterback, but was told during the spring that he would likely be starting for the varsity team this fall.
“It was actually last year, after the season, when those seniors left and he said they were looking at Brenden Ketchem to be a ‘Mike’ linebacker, he said I would be the next guy in line to fill that quarterback spot,” Cearley said.
Head Coach Jeff Walker has had nothing but positive things to say about his starting quarterback, saying in one instance that his staff has known for a while that Cearley would eventually take over the starting role. Walker has also said that Cearley was made for the position, considering his stature, ability, confidence, and composure under pressure.
During their first padded practice on Saturday, Walker said he saw exactly what he expected from Cearley.
“He looked about like I thought he would,” Walker said. “Cearley’s a football player, so we expect big things out of him and he’ll produce big things. He’s just that type of kid. I think he’s even better when the lights come on. He rises to the occasion, so I’m not worried about that position whatsoever. We can’t get him hurt, because his backup is our middle linebacker, but other than that, on getting the job done, there’s no doubt the young man can get it done.”
Cearley has had the starting varsity quarterback position in mind for quite some time, considering he’s been going to Liberty Hill football games since he was born. Cearley has spent his entire life in Liberty Hill, attending a number of games at the old Panther Stadium and dreaming of when it would be his turn to stand under center.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Cearley said. “I’ve been going to Liberty Hill games since they were at the old Panther Stadium, and I just loved the atmosphere there and wanted to be on the field so bad. I got it in high school, so I just love all of this that’s happening, and I thank God every day I’m able to do what I love to do.”
With Cearley’s arrival comes Ketchem’s shift from offense to defense, but Cearley said Ketchem has been nothing but helpful during the process, often pointing out mistakes or giving advice to the first-year varsity quarterback based on his experiences last season.
“Ketchem is a great player, and he has helped me kind of learn the new plays and is kind of teaching me what to do, and if I do something wrong, he’ll critique me,” Cearley said. “He’s just an all-around good player and good teammate.”
For a quarterback like Cearley who loves to throw the football, the Panthers’ Slot-T offense isn’t a dream scenario. Per usual for Liberty Hill, though, their starting quarterback has expressed a willingness to take a backseat for the good of the team.
“It is actually kind of hard, because I love throwing the ball,” Cearley said. “I just love it. I want to just throw the ball every single play, but in this offense, we can’t. This offense works really well if we get all 11 guys to do their job. If we can just do our job, I’m fine with running the ball every play if we win games.”
A huge part of Cearley’s role will be handing the ball off to last season’s leading rusher Kyle Harrison, who Cearley is anxious to get on the field with, along with fellow running backs Shane Gonzalez and Jakob Schofield.
“Kyle is a great guy, a great competitor, and a great teammate,” Cearley said. “I’m just happy to be a part of this team and happy to be a part of this backfield. We have three great running backs with Kyle, Shane Gonzalez, and Jakob Schofield, and I think all of them can run the ball very well. Jakob Schofield showed us last year that he can, so I’m just ready to be a part of it.”
In an unusual turn of events, Cearley said the Panthers are working on experimenting with some different formations to take advantage of Cearley’s passing ability. Regardless of how often they work on it in practice, though, history tells us it likely won’t be used often on Friday nights.
“We are putting in sort of a spread right now,” Cearley said. “We’re trying to see how that works in some different types of formations. We’re just trying to see how that works before we start rockin’ and rollin’ and getting in the groove of things.”
Whether or not he gets the opportunity to throw the ball as much as he’d like, Cearley’s role as a leader won’t change. Part of that leadership role, he said, is making sure he’s held accountable for his own actions along with his teammates.
“I’m just trying to motivate my guys to keep pushing and keep going 100 miles an hour like Coach Walker wants us to,” Cearley said. “All in all, I’m just trying not to let them down and making sure I’m doing my part and they’re doing their parts, so it all kind of ties together.”
At 11 a.m. Saturday at Panther Stadium, Panther fans will get an opportunity to see 2018’s QB1 during Liberty Hill’s first scrimmage of the season against Brownwood.