Unlike some of his peers at the position, Ridgeland quarterback Trevor Long would rather go almost unnoticed during games. A converted linebacker, Long adapted to his new position midway through last season and accepted his role as distributor in the Panthers' run-heavy wing-T offense.
Midway through the 2011 season, Long was still taking snaps as the backup quarterback and was expecting to begin getting practice reps at linebacker, the position he had played his entire career. But after Panthers coach Mark Mariakis kicked 10 players off the team, and Darrell Bridges volunteered to move from quarterback to fullback, the 6-foot, 185-pound Long was promoted to starter just three days before the team would travel to face Dalton.
"They threw me in the fire, and I had to just learn as I went," Long said. "I had never even played quarterback until my freshman year. The coaches saw that my dad was about 6-4, and I guess they thought I would grow that tall, so they had me to start taking snaps on the scout team. I was terrible at first, but I worked at it every day in practice until I started to learn the position."
With Long directing the offense, Ridgeland has won all 10 home games this year and is averaging 42 points per game. Prior to this season the Panthers had never advanced past the second round of the state playoffs but will take on top-ranked Sandy Creek Saturday at 5:30 at the Georgia Dome for the Class AAAA championship.
After using much of last season as on-the-job training, Long went into this season much more confident in his own abilities when called upon. He knows he doesn't have to take the full load of the offense on his shoulders because he is surrounded by talent in the backfield. Fullback Darrell Bridges has rushed for more than 2,300 yards, Vonn Bell at one wing has more than 1,000 rushing yards and Shaqualm McCoy at another wing has more than 500 rushing yards. McCoy was also a 1,000-yard rusher at Notre Dame before transferring before this season.
"My job is to just get the ball to the playmakers and let them do what they do," Long said. "I manage the game. From the time we're in the huddle, to making sure everyone is lined up right, to getting the ball in our playmakers hands, I know what I'm supposed to do on every play."
Long's season totals through 14 games look similar to a single-game stat line for many spread offense quarterbacks, having completed 29 of just 52 attempts. But few at his position recognize a defense more quickly, evidenced last week when he called a play in the huddle and just before walking to the line looked back at Bridges and said, "this is going to be a touchdown" based solely on the way Marist lined up defensively. The play turned into an 89-yard TD run by Bridges to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
"He doesn't fit the quarterback mold," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "Maybe it's because he played linebacker so much in his career, but he's not your typical quarterback. But he definitely understands his role on the team, has always been a good game manager and makes plays when he's asked to. He's the perfect fit for the people we have around him on offense because he never tries to do too much.
"The best thing about Trevor is he's like having a coach on the field."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having 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, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...