*Also known as the only poll that really matters in Division III. At least as far as I’m concerned. The AFCA does a poll which is usually more friendly to Wabash, but I don’t know anybody who really concerns themselves with that one.
It’s certainly true that quarterbacks (and coaches, to a degree) get too much credit when things go right and too much blame when things go wrong. As you might be able to infer from an 8-2 season being a big disappointment, things have been going pretty right for Wabash, and have been for the last decade, really. This can no doubt be traced through a line of All-American quarterbacks* since I walked onto campus in August of 2004. Russ Harbaugh, Dustin Huff, Matt Hudson, and Chase Belton have all been top ten or better quarterbacks in Division III, and for the most part, they’ve all come through a pretty natural progression and had some good hints at what was coming before their appointed time to start.** Now, though, the chain looks as if it might have been somewhat broken.
*I think all these guys were All-Americans, but if not, they certainly could have been without a doubt.
**A big exception would be Matt Hudson. As I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before, Huff lost what should have been his fifth year senior season after being injured on the hands team against Franklin in the opening game that year. It was as sullen a crowd as you could imagine for winning a tough revenge game. Another quarterback, whose name escapes me, but we called him Augie, started for a game and didn’t do badly. Then Hudson took the reins, and the rest was history.
Chase* was a very good quarterback, and probably the most mobile that I saw. The problem was his size. He was a pretty small dude, especially following the 6’5” or so Hudson. As referenced earlier, Huff couldn’t stay healthy, and he was a pretty good sized guy. Chase inevitably spent some games hurt thanks to his game. This included most of the playoffs in 2011. The back up then, though, was Tyler Burke, who happened to be a senior. Last season, Chase was remarkably healthy, though. So while there were some spots we saw a different quarterback, there was really not much there to get a glimpse of the future and see the next link in the chain.
*I use his first name here for a reason, you’ll see why in a bit.
So this year, as certain as the defense is, the quarterback question is totally up in the air, even to today. Even Coach Raeburn says he doesn’t know who’s going to start on Saturday. The quarterback we’ve seen is senior Andy Walsh. He hasn’t looked bad at all, but I also haven’t seen anything that really gets me excited about him. I’m more hopeful about what I’ve watched him do on the basketball court than anything I’ve seen on grass. He also runs into a lot of the same issues I have with Travis Henry. Maybe even more so. This is a good team, it deserves better than a place holder.
So that brings us to what underclassmen are in the mix. Sophomore Michael Putko apparently saw some game action against Wooster last year, which I kind of vaguely remember, but clearly am not too excited about. There is another sophomore, Bauer Schmeltz, apparently in the mix, who we have not seen. He would get the nod for best name, though.
Myself? You know, I wouldn’t really mind seeing if a freshman could handle things here early in the season. Who wouldn’t like to have four years of an All-American quarterback if you can? There are three in contention. Two won state championships coming out of a couple of Indy’s best programs, which you might have heard is a pretty good football scene these days. That would be Connor Rice and Drake Christen out of Cathedral and Lawrence Central, respectively. I’m sure both would do great. But the last freshman is the one that has my attention.
Hailing from Northmont High School in Dayton, Ohio, is Cameron Belton, younger brother of Chase. It seems from this article that maybe he is a bit of a darkhorse in this race, but if he’s anything like his brother, I would certainly say “yes, please, more of this!” As an added bonus, he’s a bit bigger than Chase. I’ve seen him on the sidelines for games in previous years (as you might expect) and he certainly looks like an athlete. And who can pass up a chance to get Wittenberg and DePauw fans thinking “Man, this Belton kid has been playing for ages!” You would also have to think that, even out of the sophomores competing for the job, Cam would have the best idea of what the football team means to Wabash and the responsibility that comes with being the quarterback.*
*Which I guess means making movies? Just kidding. Although, for real, you should check out Russ’ stuff. It’s good, and he really is one of the most thoughtful writers I came across in my time doing creative writing at Wabash.
We’ll see who takes the first snap on Saturday, and it’s heavily hinted (and not a bad idea) that we will see multiple quarterbacks for the first few games. Judging from the past, Hanover’s defense probably won’t give the best example to judge which guy can handle Wittenberg and DePauw* best. But, you can only play who the schedule gives you, and best to experiment against Hanover and Denison than, say, Mount Union in the playoffs.
*I guess I have to include them, though you might have heard they’re having some football issues. They’ve turned to former IU coach Bill Lynch. Surely there no reason to think that a failed coach at a bad football school could fail, right?