Their sophomore seasons, Tuscola's Kaleb Williams and Monticello's Caleb Hanson had no reason to worry about being put in to play quarterback.

Tuscola had Nick Bates.

Monticello had Brandon Wildman.

Hanson, the studious backup, kept his head in the playbook. His opportunity to show he had learned it and be the Sages' starter was likely two years away.

Williams was already starting for the Warriors -- at running back.

But by the end of the 2014 season, both had to jump into big games in place of their teams' injured starting quarterbacks. Hanson was asked to mount a second-half comeback against St. Joseph-Ogden. Williams started the last two games of the regular season as Tuscola jockeyed for playoff position and then again the Class 2A quarterfinal against Chester.

Now, it's their time.

Tuscola plans to use two quarterbacks to replace Bates. Almost all of Monticello's offense is changing. And that's not all.

Arcola, the defending Class 1A state champions, lost a king's ransom.

Here's a look at how all three teams are handling it:


Nick Bates was dinged up in 2014 and missed three games, so Williams' quarterback education had an early start.

"I was just a little sophomore who just kind of got thrown in," Williams said. "But I just had Nick there the whole time helping me through it. So, I learned from one of the best."

Williams went 3-0 in the games he started, throwing for 430 yards and five touchdowns (323 yards, four touchdowns vs. Meridian).

Tuscola beat Warrensburg-Latham and Meridian in the last two weeks of the season to jump from five wins to seven. Bates returned for the playoffs, beating Shelbyville and Lawrenceville, but Williams' named got called again for the quarterfinal, on the road, against Chester.

There, he threw one touchdown pass and Tuscola barely moved on, 17-14.

Last summer, the Warriors really started preparing for Bates' graduation. Williams took about 20 to 30 percent of the practice snaps for a quarterback last season. Sophomore Luke Sluder has also competed this summer.

They'll split time series-by-series in games this season.

"Some people say if you have two quarterbacks, you don't really have any quarterbacks," Romine said. "I think (Ohio State coach) Urban Meyer would disprove that theory when they won a national championship with their third quarterback. We'll play two until we think, you know what, I think our team's a little better with this one on the field."

Williams rushed for 1,406 yards and 31 touchdowns over the past two seasons and will move to running back when he's not playing quarterback.

Sluder, the other option, is no slouch. Although he doesn't have the varsity playing time, he's 6-foot-2, 193 pounds and looks the part.

"You don't feel one of them go out there and you're just like, 'Oh, man...,' " junior wide receiver Dalton Hoel said. "I feel it's gone a lot better than I expected. There aren't huge differences in the two of them. It's not like one of them comes in and you totally feel completely different and uncomfortable with it. You don't have to make adjustments whenever a different quarterback comes in. They both know when to get the ball off and where to throw it."

Williams and Sluder have bounced in and out all summer, every five snaps or every series in 7 on 7s and every other snap in practice, Hoel said.

Bates was one of the two or three best players in the area last year -- probably the same two years ago, too -- but Romine notes that replacing a quarterback of such caliber has been done before at Tuscola.

"When there was Dusty Burk, there was never gonna be another Dusty Burk, and then there was John Wienke," Romine said. "And then there was never gonna be another John Wienke, and then there was Phil Meyer, and then when Phil was gone, there's never another Phil, and then there's Nick Bates.

"When Nick's gone, there's never gonna be another Nick until we get a kid prepared to be another Nick."

Make that two kids.


It was the best 2-for-6, 44-yard performance of Caleb Hanson's life, and the 18-yard touchdown to Isiah Florey his favorite throw ever.

That throw jumped the Sages ahead of St. Joseph-Ogden, 15-14, in the third quarter of their Sept. 26, 2014, meeting. Then, Hanson led a drive that ended with Monticello taking a 22-14 lead in a game they lost, 29-22, in overtime.

"Now that? That was something," Hanson said.

Almost a year later, Hanson filled in for Wildman again after an injury. This time, he faced Tolono Unity and led the Sages to a rain-delayed victory with 220 passing yards and three touchdowns.

He played a big role in two more games, finishing last season with 550 passing yards, five touchdowns and a completion percentage at 78.

Strangely, he comes into this season having already faced two of the perennial powers in the Okaw Valley Conference.

"I didn't imagine coming in that way," Hanson said. "I just thought it would be, 'Who's the new guy?' I never imagined it coming to that one guy that played against Unity. I never thought it'd be that."

Who is the new guy? He's a little bit better runner than Wildman was. He has always been a student of the game.

"I can tell you, in my eight years at Monticello, I've never had a kid come to me more often asking questions about plays and what he wanted in a situation," coach Cully Welter said.

"As a backup quarterback, he would take our script and he would mark down all the questions he'd have and would come talk to me."

Hanson impressed his coach in the way he handled the pressure against St. Joseph-Ogden two years ago, then again against Tolono Unity.

He was always ready for the moment. He just had to wait.

It's finally his turn -- his, and a bunch of other guys.

A quick roundup of the offensive stars the Sages are replacing: Wildman, running back Jacob Burton, wide receivers Noah Freemon, Sutton Winterbottom and Tyus Welter. 

Returning at receiver, Hanson's targets include Florey and Nate Graham. 

At running back, the hole is a little bigger, and there's been a lot of moving parts to try to fill it. Lucas Lieb, Alek Bundy and Nathan Harman will take their first snaps at running back. Bundy was a starting safety last season, and now adds running back to it. Harman was also a big defensive piece, on the defensive line, and he'll also get some carries.

"With the guys we have right now, none of them have varsity snaps on offense to any great degree, so it's a way to find out who might take charge at the position," Welter said.

The Sages know Hanson will at quarterback, even though he's a quiet guy.

"He realizes now he's not the backup quarterback where he's coming into that situation where everybody else is going to kind of rally around him and boost him," Welter said. "He's gotta be the guy encouraging other people and taking control of the team. That's a little out of his element, but he's trying."

It's his past experience, little but in big moments, that have given his teammates the confidence that he can take over.

"He showed up in that Unity game last year," Harman said. "He stepped up big and we just believed in him from there on, and we think he can do the same thing every game this year."


The Riders outscored opponents, on average, by 48 points in the first halves of nine regular season games last year.

They led 57-0 at halftime of their first-round playoff game.

They went on to a perfect 14-0 record and 1A state championship.

What's it matter for this season's roster? The new guys played a lot of second halves -- timed out to about five full games -- against first-team defenses.

"Some of the teams we played didn't have enough people to get another JV team in there, so (the backups) were playing against varsity," said Jack Spencer, one of Arcola's returning lineman. "The speed between JV and varsity is a big difference, so that was a big help for them."

First, Arcola must replace running back Wyatt Fishel, the 2015 H&R Area Football Player of the Year who rushed for more than 2,000 yards.

Tony Salinas, Mario Cortez and Daniel Mendoza will try.

"It's big shoes to fill," Salinas said.

Second, Clayton Strader will be replaced at quarterback by his younger brother, Conner, who may be a little bit better runner, believe it or not. Clayton rushed for 1,364 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

If the names sound familiar, it's because they are.

"They're track guys," coach Zach Zehr said.

Salinas, Cortez and Strader have made names for themselves on Arcola's track team during the past couple years.

They're fast and hit the hole a bit faster than Fishel did, Spencer said.

The list of changes doesn't end there for Arcola. It's long. Zehr said only half of the Riders' 2016 roster has played high school football before. The ones who did, however, got a lot of varsity action.

The more first-half blowouts Arcola had, the more Zehr thought about how valuable those second halves were for the other players. He may have stopped calling passing plays, but nothing else changed.

"We ran our full run game," Zehr said. "There was a time last year we started working on adjustments we thought we'd make this year. We started working on it last year. We were kind of looking ahead. We started kind of toiling and messing with some stuff to see what we liked."

The coaches like this group.

"We have half the kids excited just to be playing football," Zehr said. "Half that are coming back are guys that are excited to step up and have their turn at it."

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