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Indians QB key to ground game

J.B. Garris has made all the right calls in East Bay's Wishbone offense.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002


GIBSONTON -- J.B. Garris won't finish as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the state this season. He won't even be in the top 50 or 100 for that matter.

In fact, if there are 500 quarterbacks playing high school football this fall, the East Bay signal-caller would likely rank somewhere between 400 and 500 based on what most people would consider a successful quarterback.

That's because rankings are based on passing statistics: passes attempted, passes completed, touchdowns, yards. Garris has very few of any of those.

What he does have is brains. And when it comes to East Bay's offensive style, that's the most important thing. Brains and the legs to carry the Indians every Friday night, even if sometimes he doesn't know how he's going to do it.

As the leader of coach Brian Thornton's Wishbone offense, Garris is faced every down with the responsibility of adjusting the call he made in the huddle.

"If I come up to the line and they're in a certain defense, I can audible to a different play," Garris said. "I probably do that about half the time. There are certain ways we can go. I have different halfbacks who could get the ball. Most of the time, it's Keith (Smith), but I don't really key on one. Every audible I've made so far has helped out."

Part of what makes East Bay so successful is that Garris has five halfbacks to call on, not to mention he can call his own number. The results are astounding.

East Bay, ranked 12th in Class 5A, has rushed for 1,506 yards in its first four games. The Indians had a season-high 504 yards on the ground against Haines City two weeks ago and have scored 18 rushing touchdowns.

A big part of that is having a quarterback who can read the defense and make the right choice at the line of scrimmage, plus having the legs to make those choices look good.

"He's the one who has to make the decisions on what to do with the football," Thornton said of Garris, a three-year starter. "That's where the experience comes to play. It's so important. You can't just learn how to do that in a couple weeks. It takes a couple of years."

Garris has spent the past four summers at Taylor University in Indiana learning the finer points and oddities of the Wishbone offense. Even after four years, the former wide receiver said he still picked up tips that have helped the Indians compile an average of 8.1 yards per carry.

"The first time I went up there, it was a little bit different, something I wasn't really used to," Garris said. "I had to learn to audible, make the right decision, read a defense. Every year I've been up there I've learned something. It's just everything that you can know about the Wishbone: all the positions, the blocking schemes, what kind of defense to expect, how to expect the defense to react to you."

The past couple of weeks, defenses have reacted to Garris by ignoring him. Smith has gotten the lion's share of the carries after Garris exploded for 214 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games.

With an increased workload, Smith rushed for 332 yards and five touchdowns in the past two games. Reggie Doby, Winn Hutchinson and Billy McPhaul have pitched in to keep defenses guessing.

"It kind of goes back and forth," Thornton said. "Keith's had two big games now so I figure they'll go back to keying on J.B."

As a Wishbone quarterback, you don't throw the ball much. East Bay has completed 4 of 9 passes for 93 yards and 3 touchdowns. Garris is 3-for-7 for 71 yards with 2 touchdown passes.

"We're going to take advantage of what the defense gives us," Thornton said. "If it gives us the inside, we're going to work on the inside. They give us the outside, we're going to take the outside.

"If they give us the pass, we're probably going to run anyway."

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