TAMPA — It was the first major decision of Shawn Taylor’s tenure, and the new Robinson coach never arrived at it. In football terms, the dude deferred. With stern conviction, he compromised.
“Don’t need to (decide),” Taylor, seated in a corner desk in the coaches’ portable, said assertively.
That wasn’t the initial plan. All spring and summer, Taylor allowed juniors Darius Autry and Travis Forehand to compete for the right to replace all-state quarterback Zain Gilmore.
They shared snaps in practice, in 7-on-7 games, even Friday’s preseason classic.
All the while, Taylor and his offensive staff — led by coordinator Craig Everhart — conferred: Do we go with Autry, the more mobile option with the leadership gene; or Forehand, the 6-foot-5 pocket passer?
Even after Friday’s 51-6 preseason rout of Osceola, when both performed solidly, the jury remained hung. On Sunday, Taylor announced he had broken the deadlock — sort of.
Both will continue playing. “The thing about it is, they both have assets that we can use in coach Everhart’s offense,” said Taylor, who alternated the two by series on Friday.
“He runs his offense with the spread-option and play-action and the deep ball. One single guy can’t do all the plays, but one of them can between the two. And to be honest, when you’re a (defensive) coach it’s a pain to prepare for two guys.”
Though stark contrasts physically (Autry is 5-11), the two traveled parallel paths to this stage of their careers. Both shared snaps on the Knights’ junior varsity in 2011 (“It was neck and neck the whole time on JV, too,” Forehand says) before opting not to play in 2012.
Autry, brother of ex-Knights flag football star Deliah Autry, focused on baseball. Forehand, who also plays basketball (7.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg last winter), says he clashed with former Knights football coaches and acknowledged attitude problems of his own.
Taylor recruited both back.
“When we lost Zain (to graduation), there was nobody behind Zain,” he said. “It’s hard to win without a quarterback.”
On Friday, they finished a combined 9-for-14 for 176 yards and three TDs (two by Autry). Both performed well, Taylor said, but both also made communication errors.
“Neither one has outplayed the other for more than that last play,” said Taylor, whose team hosts Sickles in Friday’s regular-season opener.
“When I’ve looked at it, if you look at, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ like the last play, then you can pick one. But as soon as you look at a whole game or a whole practice …we end up back at the same spot. They’re tied.”
As a result, Taylor gladly subjects himself to the cynics who recycle the adage about really having no quarterback at all if you have to use two. Whether the adage applies in this case will be known in short order.
Robinson opens the season with Sickles, Plant, Jefferson and Armwood.
“I have heard that (saying), but I don’t agree with that, because I know I’m a good quarterback and I know Darius is a good quarterback,” Forehand said.
“We’ve been working, so there’s no way we don’t have a quarterback. …Our offense, with what we’re trying to do, it just so happens we both fit in it.”
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.