It’s been a while since Seven Lakes had uncertainty at quarterback. Michael Batton, who started the previous three seasons, graduated in the spring, and in his stead left a quarterback competition that started in April and continues well into late August.
Junior Cristian Beltran and sophomore Scott Stanford are the contenders. Beltran, a prototypical drop-back passer, came from the sophomore team. Stanford, more of a runner and scrambling threat, played on the freshman team last year.
Each has had significant learning curves. Still, each has fared admirably in the process, with their first true test coming Friday with a home scrimmage against Cypress Lakes.
“They’re neck-and-neck right now,” second-year head coach Jimmy Hamon said. “We’re in a whole different situation than what we were in even at this point last year, when we definitely knew who the starter was going to be. This year, both of them do things that could find them both on the field.
“I’m not a guy that wants to play a two-quarterback system if we can help it, but if that’s what’s best for us to win, then we’ll do that. Friday’s going to be big for us. I’m really curious what’s going to happen when we suit up against a defense they haven’t seen.”
Beltran and Stanford spent their summers either on campus, working out or studying the nuances of their position with Spartans coaches, or working with personal coaches and trainers.
Beltran said the pace of the varsity game has been his biggest adjustment. Stanford said the speed of defenses has been his.
Either way, each has tried to take something out of each rep, each practice, each film session.
“It’s just about going into practice every day and doing the best I can,” Stanford said. “I watch him whenever he’s in, getting mental reps on the sideline. And then when I’m up, I’m just trying to put what I know and what I’m learning together.”
Added Beltran: “It’s competition. We’re both doing our best. We’re learning every day. We’re getting in the film room. As long as you come out here, give your all and compete, you can’t hang your head.”
Hamon said it could be assumed that tension and anxiety would rear their ugly heads during a quarterback battle. But when it comes to Beltran and Stanford, he said, that would be wrong.
In fact, Hamon said, “both have fed off each other.”
Beltran and Stanford did not miss a summer workout. They religiously attended 7 a.m. skill work sessions twice a week before strength and conditioning camp, extra time with school coaches allotted by the UIL this summer. It made a difference. Hamon said coaches were able to slow down the game and start with basic fundamentals when teaching the offense to Beltran and Stanford.
There was no rush or overlooked step.
“The No. 1 thing about both is they’re very coachable and they don’t get too high or too low,” Hamon said. “They don’t get frustrated. Neither is really hot or cold. They’re even keel all the time, and that’s what you want out of your quarterback.”
Stanford doesn’t see the competition as pressure.
“We’re both humans,” he said. “We both make mistakes sometimes. We both do good sometimes. It’s up and down, like anything else.”
Beltran goes a step further, calling it “fun.”
“Football is football,” Beltran said. “You do your best and adjust to what’s in front of you. It’s not any more complicated than that.”
It helps that they have help.
The Spartans’ offense has a quartet of dynamic playmakers in junior running backs Milton Jones and Nick David-West and senior receivers Eric Johnson and Jaden Embra. The offense is versatile and deep enough to adapt to whoever is under center, the running Stanford or the throwing Beltran.
“We have playmakers that can take weight off those guys,” David-West said. “We’re all captains, we’re all leaders. It’s not always going to be on the quarterback. Milton and I can run the ball. Eric and Jaden can catch. We’re all working together to help them out. They both can help the team in different ways. I’m excited to see who can come out on top.”
So is Hamon, who has a little more than a week of evaluation left before the Spartans open their season against Memorial on August 31.
Hamon is hopeful to have one of the two quarterbacks emerge on top after Friday's scrimmage. If not, he's prepared to let next week's slate of practices determine who gets the nod.
“Ultimately, it will boil down to who moves the ball the most consistently, whether or not they have the best completion percentage or score the most touchdowns,” Hamon said. “We have weapons for our quarterbacks to get the ball to, and it will come down to who’s going to be the most productive moving the ball down the field and operating our offense efficiently. Whoever can move the ball, that’s who’s going to be in the game.”