DADE CITY — Pasco knew it would be in for drastic changes after Jacob Guy graduated with a handful of county passing records.
It might not have expected a four-quarterback carousel that has managed to silence skeptics and helped carry the Pirates back to the Class 5A region final.
“I didn’t think I could reach his standards,” junior Ben Chandler said.
But Chandler and Pasco’s quarterbacks — Janarion Grant, Jajuan Henry and Grant Starling — haven’t needed to. The Pirates have tweaked their offense to adapt for different styles of passers.
Guy had the arm strength to threaten defenses deep, which helped him set Pasco County single-season records in touchdowns (42) and passing yards (2,672) before walking on at Florida. But he was also content to dump short passes to Grant and David Emmanuel — and current UMass freshman Trey Dudley-Giles — and let them slash through defenses. That trio combined for 74 percent of Pasco’s offensive touches last season.
Pasco’s current crop of quarterbacks has the same goal: get the ball to Grant and Emmanuel, who have combined for 72 percent of the Pirates’ rushes and receptions since Grant returned from a hand injury.
They’re just doing it differently. Through 12 games last year, Pasco passed 41 percent of the time. The Pirates have thrown only 28 percent of the time this fall.
“(Guy) broke some records last year; I know he did it just giving the ball off to these two,” Chandler said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do — get the ball to their hands.”
Henry started at quarterback in the preseason game against Hernando, but Chandler also took snaps and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass for his team’s only score.
Henry tallied 91 rushing yards in the first half against Land O’Lakes in Week 1 and averaged almost 7 yards per carry through the first four games. But the 5-foot-10 senior fell out of the starting lineup after that and has only five touches since the end of September.
Chandler inherited the starting job in October and hit on 15 of his 21 passes in the next two games, against Wesley Chapel and Hudson. The 5-foot-11 junior ranks seventh in the county with 770 passing yards and leads the North Suncoast with a 10-2 touchdown-interception ratio while completing 57 percent of his passes.
“Ben stepped in and did what we asked him to do,” Pasco coach Tom McHugh said. “He’s capable of running. He’s capable of throwing.”
So are Pasco’s other two quarterbacks. Starling has completed 15 of 26 passes this fall, largely as a backup, while Grant has morphed into a quarterback since returning against Fivay.
McHugh said Pasco hasn’t had to change its schemes drastically with the shifting personnel. Offensive coordinator Brad Starling designed some plays and formations that suited Henry’s strengths, and others that were tailored to Chandler. Pasco has fused them together for Grant.
“We have confidence that if something happens to one of them, that another one can come in,” McHugh said. “We’ve already practiced and actually played with them.”
Grant and Chandler have shared duties the past few weeks. Grant took a majority of the snaps at quarterback in last week’s 52-0 win over Gainesville Eastside, and Chandler shifted to receiver.
McHugh said moving Grant to quarterback gives Pasco the obvious benefit of having one of Tampa Bay’s top athletes touch the ball every play. Chandler also has the athleticism and blocking ability to perform well at receiver.
But as Grant has improved his accuracy with more reps in practice, he’s also becoming better at spreading the ball to his other playmakers. That means if defenses focus on stopping him, it creates opportunities for Emmanuel and receivers Malik Johns and Nate Craig-Myers.
“They’re gonna have to keep an eye out on me,” said Grant, who has scored 19 touchdowns and thrown for another in six games. “While they’re doing that, they’re really not focusing on other guys that can do damage also.”