When it came time for Cartersville High’s football team to replace the top-ranked player in the country back in 2018, the Canes were fortunate enough to have Tee Webb set to fill in for the recently graduated Trevor Lawrence.
Things aren’t as straightforward this year as Cartersville looks to replace Webb — who, like Lawrence at Clemson, is now with an ACC program in Louisville. For one thing, the entire offseason has been a mess with spring practices canceled and summer workouts limited in number and scope.
That might be part of the reason nobody has managed to separate themselves enough to be declared the Canes starting quarterback just yet. Although based on reps at Monday’s practice, there seemed to be a pretty clear hierarchy with Stratton Tripp (Class of 2021) earning the bulk of the snaps, followed by Jake Parker (C/O ’22) and then Paul Gamble (C/O ’23).
“We’ve got an open quarterback competition,” Cartersville head coach Conor Foster said. “Stratton, J.P. and Paul have all really come in and worked hard this offseason. I’ve been really proud of all of them. They’ve each made tremendous strides. Stratton is becoming more comfortable in our program, becoming more comfortable as our leader. You see the game is starting to slow down for him. I’ve been pleased with his progress, but then again, just pleased with that position group, as a whole.
“The quarterbacks in our program have a great tradition, and the standard is set really high. It’s been fun to see them embrace it and really work hard to make sure they’re upholding their end of it.”
Those quarterbacks are certainly aware of the history, which includes the storied career of Brooks Barden directly before Lawrence’s historic tenure.
“It’s a very high expectation,” Parker said.
For Tripp, it was one of the reasons he transferred to CHS last year after playing four games his sophomore season at Cambridge High in Milton.
“I wanted to play quarterback at a high level, so that’s why I came to Cartersville,” said Tripp, who served as Webb’s backup last year. “I’m excited to see where the season is going to take us. I don’t think it’s about me trying to chase the records and stuff. I’m just trying to go out there and do the best I can for my team, win some games and win a state championship.”
Tripp probably brings the biggest dual-threat dimension at the moment. He showed his hard-nosed running ability in mop-up duty last fall.
“Stratton gives us some different things in the run game,” Foster said. “He’s a physical kid. He’s a strong kid. He’s got a lively arm. He has a high spin rate on the ball. He gives us a downfield threat, but also with him in, I think you’ll see some wrinkles in the run game that we’re excited about as well.”
Parker will be fascinating to see in live action after growing six inches and putting on roughly 40 pounds since he played in his most recent game. Parker also said he can throw the ball about 20 yards further downfield after working out daily during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“J.P. might be one of the most improved kids in our entire program,” Foster said. “He’s getting taller, getting longer. His arm is getting stronger. Every year, we’re seeing more and more out of J.P. He’s really smart, and he knows our system in and out. He’s learning to read defenses at a high level. Seeing him grow a lot has been fun.”
Of the three, Gamble would seem to have the longest odds of opening the season as the starter. He still has a bright future, though, having quarterbacked the ninth-grade team last year after a successful stint at the middle school, where he led the Canes to a conference championship in 2018.
“Right now, things are moving a little bit fast for Paul,” Foster said. “His ability to pick things up quickly and make adjustments on the fly has been very impressive. Paul is a good athlete, as well. Strong kid who can do some things in the run game.”
Foster added, “Each of them brings some different and unique things to the table. We’ll do our best to get the most out of them individually.”
With the GHSA deciding to push back the start of football season two weeks, the quarterbacks will all get an extra fortnight to impress their coaches.
“I think it’s huge,” Foster said. “We put so much on our quarterbacks. We’re a quarterback-centered offense. … I’m thankful for the extra two weeks. We’re going to make the most out of it. We’re throwing a lot at them. We really want to find out what they can do.”
Foster expects to have a singular starter ready when the season begins in September. That being said, he emphasized the importance of having multiple quarterbacks fully prepared to step up during a season that could see players impacted by coronavirus.
“I expect in the coming weeks somebody will separate themselves,” Foster said. “This year — maybe more so than any other year, because of the pandemic — we have that next-man-up mentality. Our coaching staff has done a great job of making sure that we’re pouring everything we can into that second and third guy, whoever they may be. You don’t know who is going to be out any given week.”
What is clear though is that each quarterback trusts their ability to slot in and lead the Canes to victory.
“It’s going to be a big part of our season,” Gamble said of the necessary depth. “We saw it last year, when we had a lot of players injured, people were ready to step in. We’ll be ready.”