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An old-fashioned quarterback battle

August 13, 2013

Dakota Thomas (left), Matt Burkett (center) and Ryan Jones (right) work on quarterback drills during a practice on Monday. Photo by Michael Waterloo of The Punxsutawney Spirit.

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Regardless of what level, one of the best parts of any training camp is to keep an eye on position battles. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, you have the battle between Le'Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman for the starting running back position. If you look at the local programs, both Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh have a quarterback competition. High school is no different, as the Chucks have a quarterback battle of their own going on.
With Garrett Zimmerman and his 25 touchdown passes gone from Punxsutawney's team due to graduation, there is an open competition to be the man under center.

Senior Matt Burkett, junior Dakota Thomas and sophomore Ryan Jones will all be competing for the starting spot. According to Head Coach Alan Nichol, it's the first time since he's been here that there's really been an open competition.

"For the first time in a long time, since I've been here, we have three guys that are really competing for that varsity quarterback position," Nichol said.

On the offensive side of things, Thomas was the only one of the three to attempt a pass (0-1).

Burkett, on the other hand, hauled in three receptions for 33 yards during the 2012 campaign.

For Jones, he's hoping for a smooth transition from 9th grade football to the varsity squad.

When it comes to breaking down the quarterbacks, Nichol feels that each has his own unique skill set.

"Both Burkett and Thomas have their own different styles that they bring to the position," Nichol explained. "You throw Ryan Jones in, who is a very astute sophomore, and you have some quarterbacks that are looking for some playing time. It's going to be fun."

Fun indeed, coach.

It won't be just fun to watch the competition leading up to the Chucks' season opener on Aug. 30 against Brookville High School, but it will be fun to see how it plays out throughout the season.

With practice just starting Monday and focus on the three sides of the ball, Nichol said he wants to focus on the basics at this point in time.

"At this point, it's early, and we are just going through to make sure the basic things are taken care of. Everyone has the basic reads and basic plays at this point," Nichol explained. "Later on, that certainly could develop where they both have their separate set of plays."

Oh, so that's a possibility?

Could the Chucks be the 2013 version of the University of Florida Gators? Remember, before Tebowmania took the league by storm, he earned his way into a quarterback split at Florida.

Chris Leak, fresh off a National Championship win, was playing second fiddle to the freshman from Jacksonville.

The two quarterbacks rotated in and out of games to lead the Gators to a 41-14 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Will Nichol consider using Burkett and Thomas that way?

"Burkett and Thomas both have styles that are somewhat dissimilar. We could have a package for Burkett and then a package for Thomas," Nichol said. "Later on, that certainly could develop where they both have their separate set of plays."

Regardless of who takes the most snaps under center for the Chucks, Nichol is counting on contributions from all of the guys in the competition.

"Burkett started for us on defense last year and Thomas started for us in some of the games," Nichol said. "They are going to be guys that will be on the field, but as far as guys that are going to be lining up under center, they are both guys that we are going to be counting on this year."

Instead of looking at it from an uncertain perspective, Nichol said that the fact they are able to add a twist to their roster can be a good thing.

"It makes it interesting. We'll throw a few more wrinkles in to enhance what they can do to showcase their strong points," Nichol said. "We've been fortunate the past few years here in Punxsutawney to really have good, mature quarterbacks. We just have a little bit different style of quarterback this year."

Make that styles. Having a few different guys in the mix can only help the team out and keep the opposition on its toes.

It'll be a story that will continue to develop, but when it's all said and done, don't be surprised if you see all three under center this year.

"We're going to need them all before it's all over. It's a long season. Those guys are both in the mix for everything we do," Nichol said. "It's going to be interesting to see how that all unfolds."

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