2015 Football: Blair, Ruch bring veteran QB presence to Jackets
FRONT ROYAL – When Randolph-Macon Academy football coach Frank Sullivan heard the school would be receiving a transfer this fall in the form of former Skyline High School quarterback Corban Ruch, the coach’s first move was to call Yellow Jackets senior Peter Blair, the team’s starting quarterback a season ago.
Sullivan recalls informing Blair that he would enter fall camp with some competition for that starting role, to which Blair – having already heard the news through social media – replied, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“I didn’t even have to get another word out of my mouth and Peter said, ‘Coach, let’s just play football. Whoever plays quarterback plays quarterback,'” Sullivan said recently.
When R-MA finally did start camp on Aug. 17, you’d never know Blair and Ruch were in a competition to claim that coveted spot as the team’s starting signal caller. The two players formed an instant bond, a quick-setting friendship made obvious by their interactions on the practice field.
During a practice on Aug. 19, Blair and Ruch split the repetitions equally during drills. They would play a game of rock-paper-scissors to determine which one got the first attempt, were quick to exchange high fives as they switched out and took turns verbally encouraging their teammates when on the sideline.
Ruch, now at his third different high school in four years (his family moved to Front Royal from Indiana following his freshman year), seemed right at home interacting with his new teammates.
“I’m good friends with all the guys,” Ruch said. “Peter’s a great guy and it’s awesome having him as a friend. All of these guys are really nice and they’ve really accepted me. I just really feel welcomed here. It’s really awesome.”
With introductions out of the way, the question is which of the two veteran players will take the snaps for R-MA in 2015?
“I’d rather give them both a lot of reps but I think teams only have one quarterback,” Sullivan said.
Blair has the benefit of being a familiar face in the Yellow Jackets’ offense, as he joined the program as a sophomore two years ago, saw spotty playing time in a relief role that season and started all nine games last fall while completing 23 of 56 passes for 321 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions in an offense built around its running game.
Blair said he focused on getting bigger and stronger in the offseason – and has a work ethic that draws praise from Sullivan – while his arm strength and accuracy have improved. Blair said he’s also more comfortable in R-MA’s new spread offense, although he admitted he’s still getting used to taking snaps in a shotgun formation.
“Being under the [center] and kind of a bunched offense, it felt really cramped when I would drop back for a pass or try to give a handoff,” Blair said. “But the spread is real open and it feels good for me.”
Blair’s transition into the new offense – which features read-option elements and places the quarterback in a situation to carry the football more often – has been aided by Ruch, he said, who ran a similar offense at Skyline.
“I’ve asked him questions about running the option offense because I’ve never run it before and he has,” Blair said. “I’ve been asking him questions about footwork and stuff and he’s really helpful, letting me know what to do.”
Last season Ruch, a two-year starter at Skyline, passed for 1,685 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and ran for an additional 370 yards and five scores while leading the Hawks to an appearance in the Virginia High School League’s Region 3A East playoffs.
Ruch, who ultimately decided to transfer to R-MA because he said it offered him a better fit academically, was named the Conference 28 Offensive Player of the Year last season.
However, Ruch is coming off shoulder surgery in late December to repair a torn labrum in his throwing arm and wasn’t cleared to return to football activities until June.
“[I] worked all offseason trying to get my shoulder back into place,” said Ruch, who was able to reclassify as a junior at R-MA, a private school, despite competing as a junior at Skyline last year. “I’m doing really well right now. It’s almost 100 percent so I’m just really excited to see what happens during the season and how it holds up.”
Though Sullivan called Ruch the more “polished” of the two quarterbacks, the head coach said he could wait as long as the day prior to the Yellow Jackets’ first game on Sept. 5 to name a starter. The plan is to pick one and stick with him, Sullivan said, although he added that both Blair and Ruch will see the field and whoever doesn’t earn the starting nod could see time as a slot receiver.
No matter where on the field Blair and Ruch are playing this season, Blair said the goal is the same.
“Personally, just become a better football player,” Blair said. “That’s pretty much what I think both of us are out here to do, is just become better people and better football players.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org