BOB LIEPA PHOTOS
Riverhead Coach Leif Shay has a choice to make. Who will be his starting quarterback, from left, Dave McKillop, Ryan Bitzer or Ian Jean-Pierre?
A preseason training camp full of question marks opened on Monday for the Riverhead High School football team. Not the least of those question marks is who will be taking the snap from center.
Will the quarterback be Dave McKillop? Ryan Bitzer? Ian Jean-Pierre?
That is perhaps the primary issue to be resolved before the Blue Waves open the 2010 season with a rare Tuesday afternoon game at Half Hollow Hills West on Sept. 7.
The last time Riverhead’s quarterback position was this unsettled at the start of training camp was in 1998 when Ken Schmidt and Chaki Ligon were battling for the position. Ligon won the starting job before Coach Leif Shay changed his mind three weeks into the season and went with Schmidt.
An unsettled quarterback situation is not ideal, especially with three candidates with little or no varsity playing experience.
“Terrible, terrible,” Shay said after Tuesday morning’s practice session. “You never want to go into a season with a bunch of inexperienced kids, but we’re going to get them ready to play, give them an opportunity and see what they can do.”
Last year McKillop was the backup to the graduated Steve Kimmelman, Bitzer played for the junior varsity team, and Jean-Pierre was playing in Wyandanch.
McKillop, a senior, may have the most experience of the three, but even that is limited. Shay estimated that McKillop took 30 to 40 snaps last season. A dropback passer, McKillop looks forward to a season being completely healthy and another year removed from a severe right shoulder separation he suffered as a freshman in preseason training camp. McKillop said the injury to his throwing shoulder was severe, just not severe enough to require surgery. He went through physical therapy.
“My sophomore year I did not come out right,” he said. “Last year I would say I was at 90 percent, 80 percent. This year should be hopefully a whole lot better.”
The three quarterback hopefuls share a similarity in this regard: They have all experienced injury problems with their throwing shoulders.
Bitzer said he had his right shoulder checked out last year. “It was bothering me,” he said. Magnetic resonance imaging found a little damage, he said, “but nothing too severe.” Jean-Pierre had a problem with his shoulder blade when he was involved in a car accident as a youngster. “I went to the orthopedist and he said, ‘There’s nothing we can really do about it because if we fix it, it’ll be worse than it is now,’ ” Jean-Pierre said. “He told me I can still throw a football, so that’s really all I needed to hear.”
Bitzer and Jean-Pierre are both sophomores, and Bitzer said he would like to follow in the footsteps of former Riverhead quarterback Tim Velys, who started as a sophomore.
“I’m trying to take everything I got and trying to get that starting role on varsity,” Bitzer said. “Looking at Timmy Velys, he was a sophomore and started on varsity. I’m trying to do the same thing.”
A mobile player who likes to throw on the run, Bitzer started half of last year’s JV games, sharing time with Kurt Carter, who has since been moved to wide receiver. Bitzer is also familiar with Riverhead’s no-huddle offense, something he learned when he was an eighth-grader.
Perhaps the one facing the biggest adjustment is Jean-Pierre, who not only has a new team, but a new town as well. As was the case with Malcolm Cater, Riverhead’s Hansen Award-winning player from last year who is now playing for Syracuse, Jean-Pierre is a transfer from Wyandanch. He moved to Riverhead in April, excited at the prospect of playing for a program that has produced championship teams.
The strong-armed Jean-Pierre, who throws a tight spiral, split time between Wyandanch’s JV and varsity teams last season. “I had a good day of practice,” he said on Tuesday. “I had some good feedback from the coaches, so it feels good to know that I’m doing good in the system.”
Shay said the competition among the three is close. “They all have good days and bad days,” he said. “They all do certain things well and certain things not so well, so it’s just a matter of finding balance.”
Riverhead’s offense is flexible enough, the coach said, that it can adapt to the strengths of the quarterback on the field, whoever that might be. The Blue Waves can be expected to turn to a Wildcat formation to jump-start the offense at times.
“We have a plan,” Shay said. “It’s just a matter of finding the guy that’s going to execute it.”