LITHIA — Just before what was supposed to be Spencer Preston’s first varsity start at quarterback, the Newsome junior received a text message from the guy who was in his very shoes not even a year ago.
“Good luck,” the message from Will Worth read, “it’s your time to shine.”
Preston — who has been tapped to replace Worth and his more than 5,400 career yards of offense — never took the field that Aug. 23 night after the preseason matchup with Spoto was canceled because of bad weather.
But last Friday, in a game that appeared like a lost cause for Newsome from the start, Preston took ownership of a struggling squad, leading it to a 23-12 victory over Tampa Bay Tech and proving there is life at Newsome after Worth.
Tonight when the Wolves travel to Gaither, a team they toppled 52-7 in the first round of the state playoffs last season, Preston is ready to show the success of the first week wasn’t just a one-time occurrence.
Under the direction of Worth, Newsome went to the 7A region final, where it fell to undefeated Kissimmee Osceola. And though that was Worth’s final game in Newsome blue, coach Ken Hiscock said he didn’t worry too much about moving on without him.
“You always have a guy that you’ve got to replace on your team,” Hiscock said. “As coaches, we face this same challenge every year, just trying to find the next guy to step up and be a competitor.”
Hiscock didn’t need to look far for a replacement. As a sophomore, Preston served as Worth’s backup. Preston said he sat back and soaked it all in, letting Worth lead, knowing it would soon be his turn.
Last Friday night, it finally was.
It’s not often an athlete admits to pregame butterflies, especially one who’s in charge of leading a team and setting an example. But Preston is frank about what was running through his mind before his first varsity start.
“I don’t even know how I went through school. I was just playing football in my head,” Preston said about his nerves. “We had that rain delay right before the game, and I was just sitting in the locker room ready to go.”
While warming up moments before kickoff, Preston concedes he was rushing things, trying too hard, anxious for the first real snap. Offensive coordinator Jeff Turner quickly caught his quarterback’s ear.
“You’ve got to calm down,” Turner told him. “It’s football. You’ve played this game all your life.”
Newsome lost five fumbles in the first half. Preston attributes the mistakes to first-game anxiety, while Hiscock claims it was simply a lack of focus. What both can agree on, however, is that the Wolves shined in the second half. Preston took charge and had a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Newsome a lead for good.
Preston admits he’s a different kind of quarterback than his predecessor. Worth, he said, was aggressive, “a freak.” Preston likens himself to more of a point guard, putting the football in the hands of teammates whom he trusts to make plays.
Regardless of technique, Preston now has the same responsibilities Worth once had, something for which Preston said he has waited patiently. There may still be questions regarding what Newsome is capable of achieving this season under an inexperienced quarterback, but Preston isn’t dwelling on doubters.
In his mind, a lack of attention might just be a blessing in disguise.
“(Coach Hiscock) gave us a great example,” Preston said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t like being first. I’d rather be an underdog, I don’t care if you notice me because I’m going to make a presence.’ That’s his take on it, and I’m just going with what he has to say.”