Speedy and elusive, Jack Schaaf had a sophomore football season at Springboro High School most receivers can only dream about. He stuffed his recruiting resume with 50 receptions, 785 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
But midway through this past offseason, Panthers coach Ryan Wilhite envisioned even more from the 6-foot-2, 185 pounder. Rather than putting up even greater receiving numbers, Schaaf would switch to quarterback.
“Coach came to me and told me, ‘We’re going to have to have you step up big this year and lead this team.’ I said, ‘ I’ll gladly do it,’ and I’ve loved every second of it.”
So has Panthers Nation. At 3-0, Springboro is the surprise area Division I team through three weeks of the season. With Schaaf learning on the job, the Panthers passed a daunting Weeks 1-2 at Mason and Centerville. They followed with a convincing 34-14 defeat of Fairmont in their home opener last week.
Today, they’ll go for four straight wins at equally resurgent Sidney (2-1) in another Greater Western Ohio Conference crossover game.
Rebounding from 3-7
This is Wilhite’s seventh season at Springboro. The Panthers were on GWOC South title cruise control, winning three crowns from 2007-10. But they went sideways during last season’s 3-7 regression.
Wilhite sensed as much, took a hard look at the program and put a new spin on it.
“We analyzed every aspect of our program,” he said. “We made some changes philosophically as a coaching staff. It’s not that we didn’t think we weren’t doing things right up to that point, but we sure did tweak some points.”
Leadership and a strong senior class were missing. Not now. Wilhite and the staff insisted on better efforts for those intangibles. Taking that lead role is massive two-way lineman Sean Welsh, a 6-4, 280 pounder who has verbally committed to play at the University of Iowa.
There is a sense of urgency among the seniors, and that begins with Welsh. A devastating finisher at blocks, he’s a big reason Springboro is shooting for its first postseason as a Division I program.
“Leadership has been everything,” he said. “Our guys have really turned things around. It’s amazing what a difference that leadership makes. We try to treat every week like it’s the last.”
Following his lead
A natural runner, Schaaf’s switch to QB was key. His passing is respectable, but he’s thrown for just 307 yards and two TDs. Running is a different game; he leads the Panthers with 346 yards on 37 carries (9.7 average), good for five scores.
He was at his best against Centerville, completing 17 of 30 passes for two TDs.
With 13 catches for 225 yards (17.3), senior Jake Johnson is now the go-to receiver. That’s not a surprise; he had 49 catches last season.
“We had so much chemistry last year at wide receiver, it’s just transitioned to him at quarterback,” Johnson said. “It’s almost like we have a 12th man on the field. We’ve got someone who can pass it and run it as well.”
Traditionally dependent on a drop-back passer, Wilhite and his staff pulled the plug on that as soon as they committed to Schaaf.
“He’s a different quarterback than we’ve had in our system,” Wilhite said. “We felt as coaches, it was going to put us in a position where we had to challenge ourselves.
“Most coaches would say, what’s wrong with having a running quarterback? And there’s nothing; we’re finding that out now. We had to change what we do to suit his talents.”
Schaaf is all into playing QB now. The Panthers are following his lead.
“To be honest, I was nervous,” he said. “Now, I love it. I want to be the guy who they turn to. I’ve tried to show them that I can do it and I think they’ve grasped onto it. It’s meant a lot to me.”