Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Calhoun High School quarterback Nash Nance is a 2009 Times Free Press Dynamite Dozen selection. Photo taken July 19, 2009.
CALHOUN, Ga. -- If Nash Nance wants to get a head start in dealing with the pressure of playing football in the Southeastern Conference, he'll get a taste this season.
The future Vanderbilt University quarterback is set to start for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets, which has stirred some emotions in this football-crazy town. Nance, who grew up in Calhoun, transferred back home after playing three seasons at the Darlington prep school in Rome.
While the folks in Calhoun are glad to get a talent like the 6-foot-4 rocket-launcher, his ascent to the starter's job comes at the expense of fellow senior Michael Johnson, who earned all-state honors in leading the Jackets to the 2008 Georgia Class AA title game.
Calhoun coach Hal Lamb opened the competition, and Nance moved to the top of the depth chart through a strong showing in spring practice and offseason workouts. He knows he will be under scrutiny as the team opens with games against Dalton, Ridgeland and Cartersville.
He also knows there's only one way to handle it.
"I try not to think about it. I just want to go out there and have fun," he said. "That's the main reason you play this sport. I plan to give it my all and take in the moment. It's just going to be fun. Things will always happen, and they can always say this or that. ... I'm used to it by now, and I can just brush it off.
"You have to have a short memory, especially at the quarterback position."
Committing early to Vanderbilt eliminates a lot of the pressure senior recruits often feel, and Nance believes it will be a big factor in what happens next.
"That took a big weight off my shoulders," he said. "Now I can focus on the team and be there for the guys. My expectation is to win a region and state championship. That's all I care about right now, and I want to go out and do the best I can and help us get there."
First he must learn the Calhoun spread offense, which relies on throwing the ball more than the version he ran at Darlington. Lamb believes Nance can handle the spread and the pressure of extreme expectations.
"He's a very bright young man, and he's been here all summer and he's studied a lot of film," Lamb said. "He cares a lot about the game and the team, and he wants us to do well. My only advice to him is to just do your best. You can't worry about what goes on around you. Just be the leader and things will take care of itself."
One teammate who has seen Nance in action is star receiver and future Georgia Bulldog Da'Rick Rogers, who played two seasons at Darlington. He thinks the fans are going to see some spectacular offensive fireworks with Nance under center.
"He can throw the ball a mile," Rogers said with a smile, "so once he makes the right reads, he can get the ball where he wants to. It's going to be fun."