Football: QB battle brewing at Land O' Lakes
LAND O' LAKES -
After more than 200 days of frustration, agony and uncertainty, these 20 days of spring football practice mean something special to Land O' Lakes High junior quarterback Ethan Weilant.
When Weilant was last seen on the field, he was the Gators' unquestioned No. 1 quarterback, in his third game as a starter on a squad with high expectations to make a run at the Class 6A-District 6 title.
But late in the fourth quarter of that game — a 14-13 loss to Hernando — Weilant tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder. Not only did he miss the rest of the season, he didn't know if he would be able to play quarterback again.
Now, seven and a half months after surgery, Weilant is fighting for his old job. He's also fighting to prove he can still be an effective passer after that injury.
“It took a while in rehab before I felt like I could still play quarterback,” Weilant said. “I was scared … mainly because it was my throwing shoulder.”
The injury robbed him of more than just football. He also was unable to play basketball in the winter and had to train for the track team with his arm in a sling.
Once the sling came off, however, Weilant qualified for three regional events: the 4x400-meter relay, the 4x800 relay and the 800 meter. And therein lies the one element of Weilant's game that has never been in question. He's a threat to run the ball.
That ability earned him the job over fellow junior James Pensyl last fall. Pensyl has a clear edge in arm strength, which Weilant readily admits. Now Pensyl also has the edge in experience as a starter, having filled in for the final seven games.
For now, the two are splitting practice snaps 50/50, and the competition could carry into next fall.
“When it's all said and done, when the dust settles, maybe we'll have one quarterback, and maybe we'll be utilizing both,” Wachtel said. “They both have different strengths. But that's going to be one of those things where we wait and see and let them duel it out.”
In addition to returning Weilant and Pensyl, Land O' Lakes finds itself in the enviable position of returning most of its skill position players. A year ago, the Gators lacked experience at running back and wide receiver. Now they have several experienced juniors and seniors.
Correspondent Bart O'Connell can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @BartOTrib.