PLANT CITY — Quarterback Landon Galloway was in trouble.
The Wharton defense was coming right for the 6-foot-3 Plant City senior, who scrambled, stepping up in the pocket to buy more time.
He saw wide receiver Tavares Chase doing his best to get open . Galloway released and Chase made a one-handed grab for a 45-yard touchdown and a 22-0 second-quarter lead.
“Some of the reads he was making, some of the throws he was making were seasoned throws,” defensive backs coach Byron Jones said of Galloway’s performance — like the one in that Sept. 6 game — this season.
He may have the moves of a veteran quarterback, but Galloway is far from being one. The Wharton game — which Plant City won 33-0 — was Galloway’s second under center; he spent his first three years on varsity as a wide receiver.
Galloway, a UCF commit, was the Raiders’ go-to receiver last season, finishing with 32 receptions. But as senior starting quarterback Nick Rodriguez’s time at Plant City neared an end in 2012, coach Wayne Ward knew he had a big decision to make.
“I thought we could develop a receiver better than we could develop a quarterback,” Ward said of moving Galloway. “He’s an athlete. You want the best athlete with the ball at all times to give us an opportunity to win.”
With 313 passing yards in the unbeaten Raiders’ first two games, Galloway has proved Ward’s strategy, so far, is successful.
The doting head coach admits Galloway resisted the idea of moving to quarterback when it was presented to him in December. But accepting the transition as a necessity for the team’s success, Galloway was on board before long.
Galloway began workouts at quarterback in February, but an arm injury sidelined him for a month in the summer, keeping him out of a spring game against Durant. The Raiders did fine without him, beating the Cougars 23-0.
But Galloway’s absence meant his very first snap at his new position would be a Friday night in August, a mere week from the official start of the 2013 season.
When it came time for his first offensive drive in Plant City’s Aug . 22 preseason game against Jefferson, Galloway said he felt at ease.
“I was actually surprised how unnervous I was,” Galloway said. “I just kind of got out there, tried to get the ball out of my hands quickly.”
That drive would end in a lost fumble from one of Galloway’s teammates, and the Raiders lost to Jefferson 48-26. Plant City faltered, but Galloway did not. Ward said his receivers missed open, on-point touchdown passes from Galloway, who went 15-of-24 for 250 yards.
“I knew he was going to be good, but I didn’t know he was going to be that good,” Ward conceded.
Right off the bat, Chase, who appears to have filled Galloway’s shoes as a standout receiver, knew his Raiders were in good hands.
“He’s a natural. I don’t know how he does it,” said Chase, who has nine catches for 151 yards this season. “I think it would be complicated trying to (make that change).”
Plant City didn’t have a scheduled game for more than a week, but that didn’t make a difference to Galloway. Tuesday’s practice last week hadn’t even officially started, but Galloway threw pass after pass to his teammate while they waited.
In the past the Raiders have had trouble staying the course, missing the playoffs the past two seasons. They’ve fallen when they’ve had the potential to be on top. Galloway, confident in his ability to lead and in the tools he has to work with, thinks the outcome will be a little different this time around.
“There are a lot of guys that talk about it, but very few that actually live it. This kid, he eats, sleeps, breathes Plant City football,” Ward said. “He just wants to leave his legacy.”
Kelly Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.