, Muskogee, OK

June 28, 2014

Muskogee quarterback getting used to new system

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— For Quintahj Cherry, the first adjustment to a new offensive system was becoming a target of defenders.

Welcome to Rafe Watkins’ spring, where quarterbacks have no special status.

“Quarterbacks get hit just like they’re tailbacks,” he said.

And ankles get rolled.

Cherry, a starter in 12 games in his first two seasons, including all of his sophomore year, began his junior stint that way. 

“It was a shock to the system,” Cherry said.

He’s had them before, like making his first start two seasons ago as a freshman against Broken Arrow.

Cherry, 5-feet, 10 inches, 170 pounds, admitted becoming familiar with ice bags, but along with his new head coach’s physical approach to the game, he’s become more comfortable with running the offense.

Watkins, who had some early concerns, has a different view of his signal-caller now.

“He’s soaking it in. His mechanics, his footwork, both need some work and even during the first week of passing league at Bartlesville he was making some wrong reads and poor decisions,” Watkins said. “But he’s getting there. The past two weeks, he’s been flawless.”

There’s been a learning curve. In addition to the ankle injury issue, most of the spring was devoted to establishing the running game as the centerpiece of the Roughers’ offense.

Passing league is different – and less physical.

“Against a four-second clock in passing leagues you don’t have a 270-pounder chasing you,” Watkins said. “But he’s smart, and he’s getting an understanding of what we want to do.

“We’ve got one primary read. I don’t let my quarterbacks audible. If our coaches can’t get the right play in by watching our scout stuff  it’s on us. I don’t want to hang jobs on a 16- or 17-year-old kid.”

The other parts of the system are grasping things too.

“The receivers are helping him out because they’re understanding it better,” Watkins said. “They’re just not running to a spot. With our stuff, it’s a lot of replacement routes. It’s never the same way twice. It may be a cut off at 11 yards one time and be 6 1/2 yards the next. We don’t want to run where they’re at or where they’re going, we want to replace them.”

It’s not an offense that wants 300 passing yards, but rather 100 to 150 – meaning the 1,902 passing yards Cherry got a year ago is a little higher than expected. The rest is ground game, and that’s something Cherry has always liked.  He averaged nine carries per game last year.

“I’ve finally just settled down and locked in,” Cherry said. “I’ve got to have an aggressive mind-set. We’ll be run first, pass second and so I’m not as hesitant to create plays. Up front our offensive line is more mature too.”

While the spring was full of pad-popping, the passing league activity isn’t. And for now that might be a good thing because the backup quarterback spot is in question.

Mikey Rodriguez, who was getting work in the spring, has not been in summer pride or passing leagues. Jacob Medrano, a sophomore and one of offensive line coach Jason Medrano’s three sons on the squad, along with Joshua, a senior, and Jeremiah, a junior, has taken the reps Cherry hasn’t in passing league, but is likely to see work with the ninth grade squad once the season kicks off. Tavian Davis, who is a primary receiving target, is the emergency guy if needed.

“Right now, long term we have to figure out something at that position,” Watkins said.

But at this point, the starter has secured himself in that spot.

“We’ve got a few more things to throw at him, but he’s definitely progressing,” Watkins said.