Quarterback and center lead Panthers’ offense
By LAUREN JETTE
When Garrett Wright and Kyle Huppee took their positions as quarterback and center, respectively, on Liberty Hill’s seventh grade football team, neither player had a thought that they would still be in those exact positions together five years later.
Now the duo leads the Panthers varsity underneath the Friday night lights.
“You always want to play on Friday nights, that’s every kid’s dream, to continue to play on, but everybody wants to play on a Friday night, you just don’t think about it,” Wright said. “Junior high coaches always say you might not play the position you did in junior high.”
With Wright as the starting quarterback and Huppee as the starting center, this marks the fifth year the juniors have played together. What started as two kids learning their positions on the field in junior high, has evolved into a deeper understanding of the relationship the two positions need to have to be successful at the varsity level.
“I’d have to say that you don’t really notice that there needs to be a relationship there, you’re just out there to have fun and you don’t really think about the long-term, that y’all will be on the same team, being together for five years now,” Wright said.
“I didn’t really think there was, in junior high, you’re little, you don’t know,” Huppee said. “Then the middle of the year, you start making mistakes and relying on Garrett more, Garrett starts relying on me more. That’s when I started figuring out there had to be a special relationship between the quarterback and center.”
After moving up through the ranks, the two understand it’s more than just snapping the ball and handing it off.
“It’s a different kind of relationship. It’s more of a… I don’t know how to explain it,” Wright said.
“It’s more of a person relies on the other and puts all of his trust and all of his faith into him and expects the other person to know that he’s going to do his job all the time and that there’s no plays off between a quarterback and center.
“Like other positions, they can kind of take plays off, but the quarterback and center is like the pitcher and catcher in baseball, you’re always involved in the game,” Wright said.
Now with five games of varsity experience, the two admit they still get nerves before every game.
“Oh definitely, there’s always going to be nerves. Last year, with both of us being backups, I speak for myself but I’m sure it’s the same for him, that there was nerves just (during) pregame and you’re not even playing anybody,” Wright said.
“They’re always there, the first couple of plays, the butterflies are always there. But by the second or third play, they are always gone,” Huppee said.
With as much time as the two have spent together on the field, they can joke around not wanting to spend any more time together off the field.
“Oh, we have enough of each other in practice. This is way too much,” Huppee said, laughing.
“Last year was worse. Last year was practice after practice after practices after practices. I mean, it was all the time. Constant,” Wright deadpanned back.
Both were quick to agree that they get on each other’s nerves sometimes also.
“It’s like a brother-sister relationship, except we’re both guys…” Wright explained.
“No, it’s more like brother-brother. I’m not going to say sister, more like brother-brother relationship…” Huppee clarified.
“But he’s bigger than me, so I can’t fight him or anything. We just argue,” Wright said, laughing.
When it comes to talking about their responsibilities on the field, both turn serious and acknowledge their part in the success of the team.
“Huppee is definitely a strong leader on the line,” Wright said. “A lot of people look up to him, even the seniors, they know he’s working hard. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met and he’s always busting his tail to get out there and get better and help out the team.”
Coach Jerry Vance admits you don’t often see the same quarterback and center make it to the same positions on the varsity level.
“It’s very unusual that we have an A-team quarterback that stays with us all the way through,” Vance said. “Garrett is obviously going to be one of those. Centers pretty well stay where they are. They’re vital to what we do because they’re the only offensive lineman that have to be able to be pretty smart and block right or left depending on what call it is.”
Having those five years of prior playing experience together is beneficial to the team, he added.
“They’re so confident in taking the snap and it has to be a second nature thing,” he said. “It has to be like breathing. Hit, boom, go, because I’ve got the ball now and I’ve got to go. As I’ve told Kyle Huppee several times, you’re the most important guy on the team because we don’t start this play until you snap the ball, so you’re the one that has to make it go.”
Vance has also witnessed firsthand the bond the two have forged over the years.
“It’s funny, if they drop a snap in practice, Garrett’s always the first one to say it’s my fault, I’m pulling it out too fast. And yet, I’m sitting over here saying, Kyle, you’re not getting the ball up fast enough, not snapping fast enough. They take up for each other because they know they’re that key to getting the play started.”