There’s no doubting, especially at the high school level, having a talented quarterback is central to a team’s success.
It’s arguably the most coveted piece to a winning equation.
So questions loomed heading into this Northwest Conference football season of how well teams such as Squalicum, Blaine, Nooksack Valley and Meridian might fare after graduating talented signal-callers.
Well, four weeks into the season, those answers are coming into sharp focus.
Not only have Squalicum’s Garrett Sorenson, Blaine’s Jalen Kortlever, Meridian’s Simon Burkett and Nooksack Valley’s Casey Bauman excelled early on, other first-year starting QBs such a Ferndale’s James Hinson and Bellingham’s Nick Knutson have emerged as solid leaders for their respective offenses.
And interestingly enough, the aforementioned six are all either sophomores or juniors, setting up what should be bright futures for their respective programs.
Each quarterback offers various skills. Here’s a look at what makes each of them a quality, promising player.
Summer growth powering Blaine’s Kortlever
Surprisingly, the Northwest Conference’s leading passer hadn’t played a varsity football game before this fall.
But the fact he’s thrived under the Friday night lights and leads the league with 753 pass yards and 11 TDs shouldn’t come as a complete shock. He did play varsity baseball and basketball last year.
Blaine’s quarterback situation was undecided following Nate Kramme’s graduation, but Kortlever spent his summer working with quarterback coach and former Borderite QB Jordan McCarty, and Blaine coach Jay Dodd said the junior’s improvements were impressive.
“He really worked on his mechanics over the summer, and just became a really good quarterback,” Dodd said. “He’s become an accurate passer and the other thing that has really impressed me so far has been his competitiveness and toughness.”
Kortlever is also a standout academically, and that intelligence shines through on the football field.
Helping Kortlever is a deep cast of wide receivers composed of Anthony Ball, Jonathan Starcer, Layton Hagee and tight end Josh Fakkema. Kortlever’s ability gives Blaine a balanced offense and keeps teams guessing.
“No, there really is not,” said Dodd when asked if there is a throw Kortlever can’t make. “He can throw the deep ball, he can throw a lot of different balls all over the field and he can do it on the move or from in the pocket.”
Nooksack Valley’s Bauman a QB prototype
If a coach were to draw up the ideal framework he’d want in a young quarterback, Bauman would match pretty well.
He’s all of 6-foot-4, has a big arm for only a sophomore and is developing at a strong rate, Pioneers coach Robb Myhre said.
And Nooksack Valley is using him, a lot.
Last week he threw 57 times, completing 37 of those for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He has more pass completions than anyone else in the Northwest Conference by 31.
“I’ve had him in PE since sixth grade, but I had no idea he was going to grow into this beast,” Pioneers coach Robb Myhre joked in a phone interview. “He really has sprouted up and worked hard in the weight room.”
It was during the Mount Baker game last week that Myhre became enamored with the throws his young QB was making. He’s also shown an ability to run, which was one of the reasons Myhre was hesitant to give him the keys to the offense right away.
Another reason was his ability to go through the passing progressions, but now the sophomore seems poised for not only a big season but a strong career looking forward.
Hinson keeping Ferndale in perfect balance
Golden Eagles coach Jamie Plenkovich couldn’t have a better quarterback situation.
He has two good ones in senior Kyler Schemstad and sophomore James Hinson, and while Hinson barely edged out Schemstad in what was a tight preseason battle, whether it was this year or in years to come, Plenkovich knew Hinson could be good.
The sophomore is one of the few Ferndale freshmen who’ve ever seen varsity playing time, and after a summer of building increased athleticism, strength and sharpening of his QB skills, Hinson has done well leading the Golden Eagles’ offense.
Week 2 Hinson eclipsed the number of Ferndale passing TDs from last year, and he’s given a much-needed pass element to an outstanding rush-first offense.
But what excites Plenkovich the most about Hinson is how well he handles adversity.
“I think one of the biggest things is when things are stressful, he stays even-keel,” Plenkovich said. “He does a good job of not getting too high or too low. ... Obviously the challenge for him is to keep getting better. He needs to continue to push to get better, and I think he will.”
Versatile Burkett has bright future
Meridian coach Bob Ames offered sophomore QB Simon Burkett a mighty compliment, saying he sees some of the same things in Burkett he saw in the Slesks who played in Meridian’s football program.
Burkett has impressed through the team’s first three games of the season, displaying a penchant for passing and running.
But what has Ames most impressed is Burkett’s short-term memory when it comes to making mistakes.
“His ability to process mistakes and move on to the next play and try not to make them again,” Ames said. “We can say, ‘Hey, we have 25 seconds left and we are getting ready to throw the ball,’ and he is able to do that. He is not afraid to tuck the ball and run either.”
Ames said his QB has a good, average arm and makes strong decisions with where he delivers the football.
“He’s only 15 or 16 years old, and he’ll get better with his mechanics,” Ames said. “He’ll improve as he gets more mature. He’s not afraid to work for it.”
Mini profile on this year’s non-senior, first-year starting quarterbacks:
Nick Knutson, Bellingham
Height/Weight: 6-0, 170 pounds
Comp. percentage: 55 percent (42 of 77)
Quote: “We have a quarterback that can throw this year and we have guys that can catch it, and not being able to throw last year hurt us in a few games. We got to be able to throw the ball, and we have guys that can do that now” - Bellingham coach Ted Flint
Jalen Kortlever, Blaine
Height/Weight: 6-1, 160 pounds
Comp. percent: 48 percent (38 of 80)
Quote: “Jalen is just a smart kid, and he is very motivated, and so he is able to work on things and pick them up right away. He asks questions, and the questions he asks are pretty smart questions, and he knows what we are trying to accomplish.” - Blaine coach Jay Dodd
James Hinson, Ferndale
Height/Weight: 6-2, 190 pounds
Comp. percentage: 52 percent (22 of 42)
Quote: “There is a reason he is playing. He has done a great job understanding what we are doing and has shown some really good leadership skills. Situations don’t seem too big for him. He’s stepped right in and played well once he got into the heat of a game.” - Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich
Simon Burkett, Meridian
Comp. percentage: 53 percent (38 of 72)
Quote: “With young quarterbacks it’s a learning process each week, each throw, each skeleton session, but he has the physical tools and the ability to make decisions quickly that kind of sets him apart.” -Meridian coach Bob Ames
Casey Bauman, Nooksack Valley
Height/Weight: 6-4, 190 pounds
Comp. percentage: 61 percent (75 of 123)
Quote: “We got to the Baker game and just knew we would have to pass the ball because they are so tough up front. All of a sudden, Casey is throwing slants like we haven’t seen before and a lot of it is being able to see over that line and seeing where the receiver is going to be. He just really looked sharp doing it.” - Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre
Garrett Sorenson, Squalicum
Height/Weight: 6-0, 180 pounds
Comp. percentage: 58 percent (33 of 57)
Quote: “He leaves no stone unturned. He is a really bright kid, but he has the work ethic to go with it, so he has a great understanding of our system. He's bugging me every minute there is no class, talking ball, and I couldn't ask for more that way." - Squalicum coach Nick Lucey