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Mitchell, Van Gorder make QB tandem work at Buford

Taylor Mitchell, Buford

Taylor Mitchell, Buford

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Montgomery Van Gorder, Buford

BUFORD -- There's an old football theory -- one nearly as old as the game itself -- that a team with two starting quarterbacks actually has no starting quarterbacks in reality.

Usually, that school of thought has very negative connotations.

But at Buford, an arrangement where juniors Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery Van Gorder share snaps under center has worked out quite well, thank you.

Actually, it's worked out more than just well for the No. 3 state-ranked Wolves (10-3), who have thrived with the two-man quarterback rotation, which is a big reason they are making a trip to the state semifinals -- this time in the Class AAA playoffs -- for the sixth straight season.

And such a successful rotation might not have happened if Buford coach Jess Simpson had stuck with the old school line of thinking and chosen one of the two as his starting signal caller coming out of preseason practice.

"Honestly, it was one thing we as a staff struggled with (out of preseason practice) because both (Van Gorder and Mitchell) had great summers," Simpson said. "Most two-quarterback systems are not successful, and there are all kind of reasons why. I just had a gut feeling that both deserved to play."

Of course, Simpson's initial decision to rotate the two quarterbacks every other series at the start of the season was designed as a mechanism to get one of the quarterbacks to claim the job as his own.

The only problem was, neither one did -- which is usually a bad thing in such a situation, but not with Mitchell and Van Gorder.

"When we started it, I figured the fair way to do it was to give them each every other series and check on the data after the game," Simpson said. "We went the first two weeks with it, and there really wasn't a whole lot of difference between the two of them. Neither one of them really separated himself from the other."

So, as each week went on, Simpson and his staff decided to continue the rotation, something both admitted they had reservations with early on.

"I think we were both a little concerned about how it would work -- if we were going to get into a rhythm," Van Gorder said. "But it really hasn't effected us much during a game. We still both put up pretty good numbers and have both succeeded pretty well."

Indeed, both have been able to have success leading the Wolves offense and then pick up where they left off despite sitting out a series while the other one goes in.

Mitchell admits he is a little surprised at how well both he and Van Gorder have handled the rotation while not losing edge after having the flow of the game interrupted.

"I thought it was going to be hard when somebody makes a play and then (the other) going in without any momentum coming into the game," Mitchell said.

"But throughout the season, we've definitely been able, when we've had big plays, to build off each other, which I think is pretty big. ... And it's really that difficult. It's the same game plan with each person. We're still doing the same things."

Logistics aside, another concern about such a quarterback rotation is just how it might affect the team's chemistry.

As competitive as both Van Gorder and Mitchell are, the worry was that it might cause friction between the two -- or worse, that factions of the offense might get behind each and cause a rift among the entire unit.

But that never happened, thanks to several factors.

For one thing, both Mitchell and Van Gorder proved to be excellent team players.

For another, they have turned out to be so much alike in physical ability, style and demeanor.

"One of the comments the offensive coaches have made is that they don't think the (rest of the) kids know the difference who's in the game," Simpson said. "It's been so seamless with both of them. And they do have very similar skills and styles."

So similar, in fact, that they have produced uncannily similar numbers.

Mitchell is 54 of 92 for 786 yards and seven touchdowns with an interception passing the ball, and has added 15 yards and a TD on 24 carries through the team's first 13 games.

Van Gorder, meanwhile, is 47 of 66 for 720 yards with 10 TDs and no interceptions through the air, with 40 yards on 13 carries on the ground.

Such similarities should be that big of a surprise, since both come from a similar family pedigree when it comes to football.

Van Gorder's father, Brian Van Gorder, is probably better known to most football fans in the area through stints as defensive coordinator with the Georgia Bulldogs, Atlanta Falcons and, most recently, the Auburn Tigers.

And the younger Van Gorder says he was never shy about using his father's connections to learn more about football at every opportunity.

"When my dad was with the Falcons, I'd go in with the quarterbacks in their meetings and stuff and hang out with them a lot," Van Gorder said. "I picked up a little bit from them, but I've just been around (football) my whole life."

Mitchell, meanwhile, also has family ties to the game from his father, Jeff Mitchell, who played quarterback collegiately at the University of Indianapolis.

"Football's always been part of my life," Mitchell said. "Being around it, that's what it's always been."