Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Collins Hill quarterbacks Bradley Johnson, left, and Brett Sheehan look to replace recently graduated Taylor Heinicke one of the state's top quarterbacks in 2010.
Last year was by far the best year for quarterback talent in Gwinnett County. However, many of those quarterbacks graduated, including record-setter Taylor Heinicke from Collins Hill.
Standouts like North Gwinnett's Scotty Hosch, Mill Creek's John Russ, Central Gwinnett's Eman Westmoreland and Duluth's Anfornee Stewart are back this season, but there are several schools still looking to fill a major QB void after spring practice.
The summer passing season will be especially important for programs in that situation like Collins Hill, which must replace Heinicke. The Old Dominion signee broke every major passing record in Gwinnett and his 4,218 yards and 44 touchdowns are second and third, respectively, all-time in state history.
"You don't get someone like Taylor very often," Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said. "I've been pleased with Bradley (Johnson) and Brett (Sheehan). They learned a lot from Taylor, just being around him. It's not as big of a dropoff as I thought."
Will either one of them throw for 4,000 yards this season? Probably not. But Johnson and Sheehan will battle throughout the summer and possibly fall camp before Reach decides on a starter for the Sept. 2 season opener.
"We've got a good quarterback competition going on," Reach said. "I think we're going to make the choice before the start of the year. We do so much with 7-on-7 in the summer, there's a lot of room for improvement. Both of them will need to get better."
Gwinnett has been known for producing big-name running backs for years, dating back to Heisman trophy winner George Rogers from Duluth and including recent stars like Buford's Darius Walker, Greater Atlanta Christian's Micah Andrews, Dacula's Kenny Irons and Parkview/GAC's Caleb King.
But with the influence of the spread offense in high school, Gwinnett has become known for its quarterbacks, never more so than last season.
The county had 16 players throw for more than 1,000 yards last year, including six who passed for more than 2,000 yards. Eight of those players graduated, leaving Central's Westmoreland as the county's top returning passer.
Those teams aren't only losing gaudy passing numbers, but also leadership on and off the field. Brookwood's Ben McLane was a three-year starter and helped the Broncos to the Class AAAAA state championship.
The experience of McLane, who grew up at Brookwood because his father Benjie is a longtime assistant there, will be hard to make up in just a summer's worth of practices.
"He grew up listening to the words and calling the plays in our system. When a guy's played in as many games as Ben has, he's like a coach on the field," Brookwood coach Mark Crews said. "You can throw in new wrinkles and he knows what you're talking about. If you try to do that with a bunch of rookies at quarterback, they just kind of look at you funny."
Crews got a look at McLane's two potential replacements this spring from Zach Moon, last year's backup QB, and Joey McLane, Ben's younger brother.
"They both competed well in spring practice and I imagine we'll keep that competition going through the summer," Crews said. "One of them will hopefully step up during that time and become the No. 1 guy."
South Gwinnett lost its record-setting quarterback in Kent Rollins, but the Comets were fortunate enough to find a capable replacement in the spring.
Jordan Ramey, who backed up Rollins last season, will take over the starting role.
"He's got to be a student of the game," South head coach John Small said.
There will be plenty of time this summer for the new QBs to pick up the offense. But sometimes a good offensive line and running back can be a new quarterback's best friend.
"We'll have to run the ball a lot more than we did last year," Reach said.