By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The pressure was certainly there.
As a freshman last season, John-Michael Pirtle was named starting quarterback when Dylan Dawson, the previous starter, was moved to tailback before the Generals' season opener.
But forget that Pirtle had very little time to memorize the Generals' playbook, or that, because of his inexperience, his nerves must have been bent and twisted as the hours and minutes dwindled down to opening day kickoff.
Pirtle faced an uncanny pressure knowing that seniors, like wide receiver Philip Hovatter, were depending on him to help them end their football careers on a high note.
"I was in his shoes, and I didn't start the season, but I finished the season as the quarterback," Dawson said of his freshman year. "I know I had a lot of pressure on me and I was pretty nervous, so I'm sure he was, too, a little bit.
"I was always nervous because I knew that team was good, and I knew I had to play the best I could just to be on their level."
Pirtle threw for a touchdown in the Generals' season opener, a 29-27 overtime win over Central, illuminating to his teammates that, though just a freshman, he could be counted on during those crucial moments of a game.
"I was able to handle that because everybody really believed in me," Pirtle said. "Even though I was the young guy, they respected me and they let me be in their group, be in their circle.
"I didn't make the greatest passes every time, and it was easy because they'd always pick me up, and I'd just relax and just throw the ball."
To correct those imperfect passes, Pirtle spent time this past summer in Louisiana at the Manning Passing Academy, hosted by NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.
Pirtle said that while he did get a chance to speak with Peyton, the 800 quarterbacks, running backs and receivers there didn't allow for any one-on-one instruction. Instead, everyone was split up into groups of 10 and were sent through different stations, where they honed their three-step drops, five-step drops and roll outs.
"It was a great experience," Pirtle said. "It really helped me throw better. Just the atmosphere: Three practices a day, just throwing and throwing, it really helped me out and I'm able to throw the ball a lot better now because of it."
This season, the Generals plan to throw the ball more than in the past. Typically a grind-it-out running team, Stonewall coach Dick Krol said that he has a lot of speedy wide receivers this season, and he aims to use that turnout to his advantage.
"I say this every year and everybody laughs when I say it, but we'd like to throw the ball a little bit more," Krol said. "And John-Michael, with a little bit more experience, a little more confidence in himself -- and like I said, he's gone to several camps -- we feel much more comfortable with his passing."
And with Dawson at running back, followed by Jordan Laughlin and an injured but soon-to-return Colton Koontz, opposing defenses may have to choose their poison when playing the Generals.
"Overall I think the coaches have a little more confidence in me," Pirtle said. "I have a year under my belt just to get the freshman jitters out. I don't have that excuse anymore, and I'm glad. I don't want an excuse for myself.
"I just want to go out and play and I'm looking forward to it."