By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Corban Ruch is about to get his first taste of the healthy cross-town rivalry between Skyline and Warren County's football programs.
Ruch is likely to get more than a taste, really -- the sophomore transfer student is expected to start behind center as quarterback for Skyline when they host the Wildcats in Friday night's season opener for both teams.
Ruch, who saw a bit of varsity time as a freshman at Seymour (Ind.) High School last year, has been hard at work since the summer fitting in with his new teammates at his new school.
"Fitting in was pretty easy," Ruch said. "Coming in to meet the guys during off-season workouts, I was really accepted and that helped a lot with the transition into a new school."
Skyline football coach Heath Gilbert said Ruch has already meshed with his teammates, and put in the effort starting in the summer to be in position to play a significant role in the Hawks' offense. Ruch's emergence, along with the return of part-time quarterback Jerrius Baltimore, had Gilbert feeling secure about the Hawks' quarterback situation even during those summer months.
"He's a real hard worker," Gilbert said of Ruch. "He came in and we met multiple times over the summer. Just to show you the dedication of the kid -- three, four hours a day after our weightlifting sessions at 6:30 in the morning, he would stay and work with me on playbook stuff.
"By the end of the first week, he was able to go on the board and do what I'd want a coach to do. So that shows his football intelligence."
Both Ruch and Baltimore should see time at quarterback this season, as Skyline replaces graduate Aaron Jeremiah at that spot. If Ruch ends up seeing the majority of time there, that could be a good thing for the Hawks.
"He has a great grasp of the offense and he was able to step in and really take command," Gilbert said. "He was working with the kids all summer long, so starting camp he'd already been accepted as a teammate to these guys because he showed what he's willing to do."
As for a potential trial by fire against the arch-rival Wildcats, Ruch is looking forward to the opportunity to play. That doesn't mean he's not a tad nervous, though.
"A little bit, but I'm really confident in my line and my teammates," Ruch said. "I think we're going to do our best and it'll be really fun."
TRIPLE THREAT: Although Aaron Jeremiah did a solid job last season as the Hawks' starting quarterback, at times Baltimore took snaps in Skyline's 'Wild Hawk' offense.
Although Jeremiah was a good runner, Baltimore's rushing ability added another dimension to Skyline's offense last year. Gilbert is in no hurry to take that dimension away.
"Jerrius's role is going to be triple threat," Gilbert said. "He has his packages still where he's going to be taking the ball at quarterback. He's going to be getting it at running back and sometimes we're going to split him out and use his receiving skills. So we're going to be using him all over the place."
Baltimore said he expects to see most of his playing time on offense as a running back. Last season, Baltimore earned second-team all-Northwestern District honors as a running back after rushing for 271 yards on 40 carries (6.78 yards per carry) with a pair of touchdowns. As a passer, he was 4 for 7 for 79 yards.
"I'm going to be playing a little running back, a little slot, probably, not that much quarterback," Baltimore said. "I'm going to be playing running back, mostly.
"I'm going to play where the team needs me to play."
Likely, that won't include much defense. Baltimore said he could fill in at a safety spot, but the junior expecting to see most of his time on the offensive side this season.
"We always want to get our best 11 onto the field," Gilbert said. "Jerrius came into camp as our No. 1 quarterback, and I'm not saying that really has changed, but Jerrius is also our No. 1 running back. We're going to win football games running the football."
INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR: It's not all that uncommon to see international students sprinkled throughout the football roster of a private school, but other than the odd kicker or specialist there haven't been many foreign-exchange students on football teams among the area's public schools.
The mainly American sport may or may not be enticing to international students, but often the lack of experience playing the game is too much to overcome.
At Skyline, two exchange students are giving football a go this season. Gilbert said senior wide receiver/defensive back David Currie and senior fullback/linebacker Bern Oliveira both made it through preseason camp and are on the roster. Currie, from Scotland, has some football experience. Oliveira, from Brazil, had none prior to arriving. Whether or not either has an impact on the football field, Gilbert said they've been welcome additions to the program.
"It's cool having them on the team," Gilbert said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>