The time finally came for me to show what I could do against actual competition. Mark the date Nov. 3, 2008 in your calendar because it will be the day that Kevin Wheatley got four snaps in Maryville College’s junior varsity game against the University of the Cumberlands.
I sat and waited on the sideline, patiently watching each other quarterback get a turn to command the offense for one quarter each. The fourth quarter was going to be mine, and I was feeling the butterflies start to flutter in my stomach as the clock crept closer and closer to the fourth.
“You nervous?” Gabe Evans asked me. I lied and said I wasn’t. The butterflies had turned into lead balls bouncing around my intestines.
Coach Ryan Hansen walked up to me and asked me what passes I felt comfortable throwing. My brain could barely function. ‘Passes? What pass plays are there in the playbook?’ I thought to myself. I blurted out the only three pass plays I had tried.
“Alright then, we’ll give you a few hitches and maybe you can complete one,” he said. “Just relax and you’ll be fine.”
I couldn’t relax when I saw the spot on the field where I had to start the possession. The ball rested just outside of our end zone on the 2-yard line. ‘Great,’ I thought to myself. ‘So if I want to score a touchdown, I’ll have to drive 98 yards.”
As I trotted out onto the field, I heard our sidelines erupt with cheers. I didn’t know if it was like a scene out of Rudy or reminiscent of the Roman gladiator days when a poor, unlucky soul was unleashed on a bloodthirsty lion.
Our first play was the pass play I selected out of the shotgun. I lined up and I was a yard deep in our end zone. I started going through my cadence when I noticed all of Cumberland’s linebackers were creeping up. I should have checked out of the play and gone for something simpler like a quarterback sneak, but for some reason I stuck with the play. After all, maybe they were bluffing an all-out blitz.
As soon as I received the snap, I looked up and saw that a sea of bloodthirsty lions in white was coming for me, completely untouched. My first thought was the get out of the end zone, but I couldn’t quite make it out before the wave hit me. As I was going down, I thought, ‘Hey, I could try to throw the ball anyway and just get an incomplete pass.’ Needless to say, that plan didn’t work either as the ball only went about two feet to my right.
I looked up at the ref, who was already signaling for the safety. My first play as a college quarterback resulted in two points for the other team. How many players can say that, I wonder?
“Don’t worry about it, shake it off,” Hansen said. “You’re still in. You got the next series when we get the ball back.”
After a defensive stand, we had the ball in much better position at around midfield. My first two plays were run plays to Paul Costanzo, who took the ball up field for the first down. The next play was for another pass, this time under center.
I began my cadence and noticed the outside linebackers had walked up to the line. As I took the snap and began my drop, I was looking eye-to-eye with the linebacker on the right side as he rushed toward me, coming off the line with speed and a hungry look in his eye. ‘(Dang),’ I thought. ‘This is not good.’
I got to the end of my three-step drop and planted my right foot. As soon as my foot hit the ground, though, I felt the clean hit throb though my right shoulder. Then I felt a helmet or shoulder collide with my spine. I was on the wrong end of a sandwich, and I was dropped quickly and painfully.
My bell had been rung. It was second down, or was it third? The little black dots that danced in front of my eyes didn’t tell me. I couldn’t remember, but I was relieved when I was one of our other quarterbacks going into the game.
“Eh, that’s the way the game goes sometimes,” Hansen said after the game. “At least you didn’t fumble the ball.”
“Hey, you put two points on the board,” defensive line coach Mark Chait said. “It was for the wrong team, but at least it was something.”