The natural reaction would have been to pout or lash out in anger. Instead, Matthew Oellerich's quiet determination to accept a new role and simply do his job has made him a true leader for Baylor's football team.
Oellerich already had experience in dealing with difficult situations, having been thrust into the role as starting quarterback last year as a freshman. He learned of that decision just days before Baylor was to play rival McCallie and performed admirably in that environment, throwing for 98 yards in a loss. The Red Raiders won three of their last five games as Oellerich gained experience.
But as he began preparing for his sophomore season, Oellerich's career was affected by the hiring of Russ Huesman as football coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Huesman's son Jacob was a star athlete in Virginia, and when he enrolled at Baylor, a competition for the quarterback job began immediately.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Huesman eventually distanced himself to win the job late in preseason practice. Rather than allowing that decision to fracture team chemistry, Oellerich, who had played quarterback since third grade, instead found other ways to contribute. He was moved to receiver, where he has accumulated 492 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Just as importantly, he has remained a vocal supporter.
"You never know if a kid will go into a shell after something like that happens," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "But Matthew is such a great competitor, that wasn't going to happen with him. He's very unselfish and accepted his role and has helped make us a better team.
"I tell the kids all the time that the two things they can control are attitude and effort. I knew I would get those things from him. Matthew is what being a true teammate is all about. You want your whole team to model his character and commitment to the team."
With Oellerich now using his athletic ability to catch passes from Huesman, Baylor has advanced to the second round of the Division II-AA playoffs, where they will travel to play top-ranked Memphis University School tonight. Oellerich and Huesman are roommates on the trip.
Huesman has lived up to his potential, combining to run and throw for more than 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns to become a finalist for the state's Mr. Football award. But Oellerich has played some quarterback in four games, including last week in the playoff opener when Huesman was held out to rest a sore shoulder.
"When he got here, it made me train and work a lot harder," said Oellerich, the holder on all kicks for points. "The competition made me better. I had heard he was a very athletic quarterback when he moved here, and I could tell right away he was a stud when I saw him at practice. But I kept competing because I wasn't going to just give him the job.
"I knew we had the potential for a good year, so I wasn't going to cause any problems. I also knew we were two of the better players on the team, so I would get on the field somewhere. There was no reason for me to be angry. It was easier to accept because he's pretty good. And he's an awesome guy. We're a better team with him at quarterback and me as a receiver right now."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...