Quality backup QB a necessity

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By Scott Akanewich

Before the Panthers’ home game against Manor Friday, Charlie Calabretta knew something was up.

“Jacob told me to be ready because there was a possibility I’d have to play,” said the junior signal-caller who was pressed into service after starter Jacob Cearley suffered an injury during warm-ups. “I knew I needed to pull myself together for the team.”

So, after emerging early from the halftime locker room and practicing snaps on the sidelines with center Riley Rosenbusch, Calabretta entered the fray when Cearley couldn’t continue and capably quarterbacked the Panthers to within a failed pass attempt of victory on 4th-and-goal in the dying seconds against Manor in the Panthers’ 33-28 defeat.

However, along the way, he led the team on a pair of scoring drives and almost a third which would have clinched a win.

Not bad at all for a backup.

But, Calabretta isn’t just any backup, said Liberty Hill head Coach Jeff Walker.

“Charlie works hard on the football field and I feel he can go out there and get it done,” said Walker. “I’ve had years when I couldn’t afford to lose my quarterback and we would have to limit what we do offensively, but Charlie’s not like that – it takes a lot of pressure off a coach to have a guy like him.”

There was no question Calabretta was ready – his father always makes sure of it, he said.

“My dad always tells me to go hard all the time during practice because you never know what’s going to happen,” said Calabretta. “So, I always make sure I stay motivated.”

Ironically, Calabretta was a running back growing up in Cedar Park, but had a change of heart once he reached high school, he said.

“Once I got here, I decided I wanted to be a quarterback,” said Calabretta, who moved to Liberty Hill for his freshman season. “But, it took me a while to learn the system here.”

Young players who grow up in Liberty Hill are exposed to the Panthers’ vaunted Slot-T offense at the youth levels so by the time they reach high school, they’re already well-versed in the frenetic, controlled chaos that is constantly unfolding in the backfield.

Calabretta didn’t have that luxury – and at first, it showed, said Walker.

“Charlie had the ability to run our system,” he said. “But, more importantly, he bought into it and had the patience to pick it up.”

Now, it seems like second nature to Calabretta, he said.

“At this point, it’s mostly muscle memory,” said Calabretta. “The hardest thing now is just making sure I get the ball cleanly on the snap because in our system we have to be able to do everything as fast as we can.”

Monday afternoon presented Calabretta with a twist when he arrived at practice, with Cearley’s status for the Panthers’ next game still uncertain.

“Today’s definitely going to be different,” he said. “I’ll be practicing with the ones.”

According to Walker, the Panthers’ backups have been splitting reps about 50/50 in practice, so Calabretta’s certainly used to getting the work albeit now with the starters until Cearley’s return.

“Especially at this time of year, we like to get our twos a lot of work and right now, our depth isn’t very good,” said Walker. “But, I have no doubt in my mind Charlie can get it done because he’s just a leader and doesn’t get nervous.”

Is there less pressure on the junior as a result of the difficult situation he’s been thrust into?

“If you’re a competitor, you’re going to come out and go hard and Charlie’s like that,” said Walker. “On Friday, he came out and led us down the field, so I don’t think there’s any more or less pressure on him. In our system, you don’t have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest to be successful.”

Walker added his players aren’t the slightest bit hesitant about going into battle with Calabretta at the controls.

“Charlie’s a very likable guy and I think our players have confidence he can lead us,” he said.

Calabretta appreciates the support his fellow Panthers provide, he said.

“Knowing my brothers have confidence in me is big and it’s motivation for me,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

Calabretta said the opportunity for playing time now is a bit of an audition for next season when he hopes to be the starter.

“I think it’s something like that,” he said. “I feel like my coaches trust me.”

So, what was it like when he entered the game to see his first considerable varsity action under the bright lights?

“We needed to score to set the tone for the second half, which we did,” said Calabretta. “At the end, I knew it was our last chance to win the game and we didn’t get it done and that’s all that matters. Now we know we need to work harder as a team.”

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