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A Little More Than Expected

December 19, 2013
By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Replacing a three-year starter at the quarterback position is a laborious undertaking, especially when the graduating senior is the program’s career record holder for passing yards and touchdowns and his replacement is a true freshman. Yet, that is exactly how Cumberlands (Ky.) began its season—with a serious question mark at the position that makes the Patriots triple-option offense tick.

A year ago—while senior Jay Bright was leading Cumberlands (Ky.) to its third 10-win season in program history, its second NAIA Football Championship Series victory and its best-ever finish as a national quarterfinalist—Adam Craig was quarterbacking the Indians of Jackson North Side High School to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Class 5A Semifinals.

A 6-foot, 210-pound dual-threat quarterback, Craig amassed 4,100 yards of total offense during his senior year, throwing for 2,705 yards through the air and rushing for 1,395 yards on the ground.

Coach John Bland, who has never had a losing season in his eight years at the helm of Cumberlands, knew Craig was something special. “I wanted him pretty bad,” Bland said. “I felt like he had a chance to earn the starting role as a freshman, especially with our situation.”

Despite being a player his head coach describes as displaying “poise in the pocket well ahead of his age,” Craig’s transition to the triple-option was far from seamless. After running the spread option in high school, an offense where he was rarely—if ever—under center, Craig acknowledged that getting used to Cumberlands system was “difficult at first.”

“It took me until the second or third game of the season to really feel comfortable,” Craig said. Much of Craig’s development came from working with arguably the greatest quarterback in Cumberlands history, his predecessor, Jay Bright.

“Our quarterback coach, Jay Bright—he was a quarterback here for the past five years—he really made the learning process a lot easier,” Craig said. “Jay’s helped me with all of the little things that go into running the triple-option like the correct footwork, all of the timing and getting the right reads down.”

Bright, who amassed 3,666 passing yards and 49 touchdowns (37 passing, 12 rushing) during his four seasons with the Patriots—including three as the starting quarterback, has excelled as a first-year quarterback coach with a veritable knowledge of the Patriots triple-option offense.

Bland, a four-year letterman at quarterback for NCAA Division I Arkansas, had previously served as Cumberlands quarterback coach; but to him, having Bright on board this season has been invaluable. “Having Jay here, he not only knew the position, he knew what I wanted from the position. He’s also familiar with our school and what it takes to be a good student here and a quarterback,” Bland said.

With Bright devoting his time to the quarterbacks, Bland has been able to coach the running backs, another pivotal position in the Patriots triple-option offense, while still providing advice to his freshman signal caller.

“I will still give my two cents to the quarterback, but Jay is able to give [Craig] more individual work, and more detailed technique work, on what he needs to do to be a great quarterback and that has helped tremendously,” Bland said. “It’s been a really good experience for [Craig] and having Jay here has been outstanding.”

While Bland says that his expectations for Craig coming into the season were high, he’s the first to admit that Craig has surpassed those expectations. “What he’s done here has not surprised me…but it’s been a little more than I expected,” Bland said.

This weekend—while Craig attempts to lead Cumberlands to its first undefeated season, its fourth-straight NAIA Football Championship Series victory and its best-ever finish, hopefully as National Champions—Bright will watch from the sidelines, as the seasoned-veteran mentor who prepared a freshman to make the Patriots triple-option offense tick. 

That final game will take place on Saturday in Rome, Ga., and can be seen on ESPN 3, with kickoff scheduled for 4:34 p.m. EST.