Teams break in new QBs on big stages

North Gwinnett’s Hayden Sphire will make his first varsity start Saturday in the Corky Kell Classic.

Hopefully, this time will be much more memorable than the last time he took a snap in the Georgia Dome.

Sphire was the backup QB last season and took the first series to start the second quarter. It just happened that series started on the Bulldogs’ own two-foot line. Sphire was sacked for a safety. It wasn’t the best way to start a varsity career.

“It might have been better to change that plan,” North head coach Bob Sphire conceded earlier this week. “He walked off the field and kind of looked at me like, thanks. I told him, ‘Hey, life of a quarterback.’”

Several quarterbacks will get that feeling of taking that first snap in a varsity game this Saturday.

Of the 22 football teams in Gwinnett, 16 will break in new starting QBs this season. All six teams playing on Saturday will feature new quarterbacks. North’s Sphire, Peachtree Ridge’s Chance Thrasher, Grayson’s Hunter Schuessler and Brookwood’s Joey McLane will make their debuts in the Georgia Dome. Norcross’ A.J. Bush will be the Blue Devils’ new starting QB after playing at Milton last year, while South Gwinnett will break in Malik Brown in a doubleheader against Florida state powers that will be televised on ESPN.

Sphire has the most experience of the group, completing 58 of 85 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns as a backup last year.

“Hopefully it’s all been a process to get to this point,” Bob Sphire said. “He’s played in key situations and not just mop up duty.”

Grayson’s Schuessler and Brookwood’s McLane will make their first starts at the Georgia Dome. It’s the same place their older brothers played their last games, leading Grayson (2011) and Brookwood (2010) to state titles.

“Joey hasn’t started for us, but he’s been in the program ever since he was a baby,” Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. “His dad has coached for us forever, so I think he understands and has a leg up in that regard even though he’s not a returning starter.”

Thrasher played sparingly last year, but head coach Mark Fleetwood isn’t worried about the junior making his debut at the home of the Atlanta Falcons.

“He was there last year, so he has an idea of the setting,” Fleetwood said. “It’s Game One, it’s his first start. I feel good about his preparation.

I don’t think we’ll make a big deal out of the venue.”

This will be Bush’s first start for defending state champion Norcross, but the senior is used to being under the lights. Bush threw for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for 900 yards last year to lead Milton to the first round of the state playoffs.

“It would be a little different if he had never played,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “He’s coming in with some experience. He played well in the scrimmage and was really poised in the second quarter. I’m looking forward to him building off that.”

South’s Brown may have the toughest shoes to fill. He replaces Jordan Ramey, who led the county in passing yards last season. Brown threw just three passes last year, but it did include an 18-yard touchdown pass.