There is no longer any time for baby steps. First-year quarterbacks should no longer need bibs or spoon-ful rations of the playbook.
"Most of your really good teams have a quarterback that's experienced," Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "The teams most often picked in the preseason to win have a quarterback that's already been through the learning process."
So in a way both Hixson and Notre Dame, its opponent tonight in a Class 4A first-round playoff game, have defied the odds. Hixson's Gill Brown is a junior in his first year as a starting quarterback, much like Notre Dame's Alex Darras, a freshman who stepped in early in the Irish's first game to fill in for injured Tanner Webb and has remained the starter.
Each of those guys has a step up on Grundy County freshman Houston Mainord, who'll make his first start Friday night. They at least have had the lion's share of snaps for their respective teams.
"It's the first time through the playoffs, though, for either of them," Fitzgerald said.
Mainord, who missed a good part of the season with a broken collarbone suffered in Week 2, has shared snaps at quarterback with Josh Rhea since he returned to the team. But he'll be out there with no safety net. Rhea suffered a broken hand last week while stiff-arming an opponent and while he might play some on defense and possibly at running back, there'll be no quarterbacking.
"The playoff game will officially be Houston's first start but we're not in panic mode. We're still in good shape because Houston has played," coach Nick Bryant said.
Bryant had actually worked Mainord in as often as possible to get him experience.
"He doesn't run like Rhea yet. He's not really strong running the option game, but he knows the offense and attended all the meetings while he was hurt," the coach said.
Darras is in literally his first year as a quarterback after playing tackle in middle school. He was promoted quickly into the starting role when Webb suffered a high-ankle sprain that left him sidelined for more than month.
"Alex came in and went 7-for-10 with 100-plus yards," coach Charles Fant said. "He's so mature for a freshman and we began thinking we could give him more [responsibility]. He was throwing a lot of passes but completing just about 40 percent so we started scaling back around midseason."
They're running more and coaches are picking spots for Darras to throw.
"It has been a neat process for us. He has the tempo of the offense because he has the timing down and control in the huddle," Fant said.
"Gillhas improved every week," Fitzgerald said. "He has become a good leader and he's a tough kid who hates to lose. Jitters? There'll be some excitement but I don't think anybody's going to be scared."