TRINITY — In the immediate moments after Mitchell starting quarterback Cody Van De Boe injured his knee in the Mustangs' preseason game against Hudson, one could practically hear a collective gulp from his teammates.
"I was like, 'Oh God,' " junior Matt Michaels said.
Michaels had a better reason that most to be nervous. As Van De Boe's backup, the job of leading the offense suddenly was his. And that was just a bit unnerving for a player who had arrived at the school via transfer from River Ridge a few months earlier, was a junior varsity signal caller in 2008 and had spent most of his time at Mitchell playing receiver.
"I hadn't gotten a lot of reps that week at QB," Michaels said.
It showed …at first.
With Van De Boe on the sideline the remainder of the game, Michaels took over, initially struggling to get a feel for things. His throws were off (some of them wobbled), and he seemed to run a bit tentatively during his first few series under center.
But as the game went along, Michaels' comfort level steadily increased and his execution greatly improved. And by the time he scored on a 22-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run, Michaels seemed in control.
"It really started clicking at the end of the Hudson game," Michaels said.
Six weeks later, it still is.
With Van De Boe lost for the season to a torn ACL in his right knee, the lanky 6-foot-2 Michaels has five starts at quarterback for the 5-0 Mustangs, who host Zephyrhills on Friday.
His statistics, while not flashy, are impressive.
Running Mitchell's vaunted option attack, he is 18-of-33 passing for 286 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. On the ground, Michaels has produced 207 yards (on 7.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
More importantly, his major mistakes have been few and far between.
"He was thrown into the fire," Mustangs first-year coach Brian Wachtel said. "But he's gotten better each week."
As Michaels transitioned from receiver to quarterback, a few things worked in his favor.
For starters, he wasn't really an outsider.
Though Michaels arrived at the school in the spring (his dad, Jim, is Mitchell's principal), he knew many of the players well because he attended Mitchell as a ninth-grader.
"They were very accepting of me," Michaels said.
Also helping was this: He shares a backfield with talented tailback Ricky Trinidad. Arguably the county's most dynamic offensive player, Trinidad leads the area with 892 rushing yards, averages 10 yards per carry and had 10 touchdowns.
Together, the pair seems to have perfect symmetry.
Trinidad's multi-faceted skills have kept opposing defenses from locking in on Michaels, while Michaels' dual-threat abilities make it equally difficult for them to key too much on Trinidad.
"Honestly, there were doubters at first," Trinidad said, "But he just kept doing his thing. He's competitive and he's always calm. He takes the pressure off me"
To his credit, Van De Boe also has provided support — the emotional kind.
"He has really taken control," Van De Boe said.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org