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Football 2012: Sophomore given the keys to Hays High offense

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:51 AM

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When Hays High sophomore Alex Delton had an interview request, two of his friends, running backs David Cardinal and Emilio Mitchell, chanted "D-1" as he walked away.

Delton just looked down and let a facial expression somewhere between a grimace and smile stretch across his face.

"They are saying D-1, which means top-notch," Delton said. "They are saying I'm not D-1. I'm not a big dog yet."

Cardinal, a senior and returning Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, said they say it to keep Delton humble and make him hungry.

"If he makes a mistake in practice, we'll joke around with him and say, 'That was a D-3 move. You aren't supposed to do that,' " Cardinal said. "To pick him back up, we'll say, 'D-1 effort. Let's go.' "

Cardinal's reasoning is sound. After all, Delton is enjoying a meteoric rise no quarterback has experienced at Hays High for a long time.

Delton, just 15 years old, will be the starting quarterback for the Indians this fall.

This is a remarkable feat, because Hays High does not produce sophomore starting quarterbacks often.

While in the past other quarterbacks have started games as a sophomore, Delton is the first to win the starting gig out of training camp in 51 years.

In 2004, Kameron Parker was the last sophomore to start a season opener, but that was because the starting quarterback was suspended for the first game. Parker got injured, and the starter took his job back the next game.

Marcus Watts, former starting safety for Kansas State University, shared snaps at quarterback in every game of his sophomore season in 1999, but he only started the last two games. Roger Casey started in 1978, but that was because the senior starting quarterback, Brad Klaus, had a broken arm.

In 1961, Joe Jeter was the last Hays High sophomore to earn the starting job out of camp, and that 1961 squad finished 1-7.

But Delton has much higher expectations than one win for his team.

"There's no doubt with this year and all the hard work that we've put into the summer, it'll show on Friday nights," Delton said. "Anything besides a state championship will be a failure."

Hays High fourth-year coach Ryan Cornelsen and multiple teammates raved about Delton's athleticism.

Because of Delton's strong arm, he served as the backup quarterback last season, despite being just a freshman, and during track and field, he was clocked in the 100-meter dash at 10.94 seconds in prelims at the Valley Center High School Invitational.

"There's no doubt he's a special talent," Cornelsen said. "(Football's) very important to him. He works hard at it. He spends extra hours throwing the ball, meeting with coaches and in film and doing the things great players do."

Delton stands six feet tall and weighs 165 pounds, according to Hays High's roster, and with three years to learn and grow, he has the potential to transform into an exceptional quarterback.

"He wants to go on and play college football," Cornelsen said. "A lot of it depends on what his frame turns out to be. As far as work ethic and desire, it's all there."

Austin Unrein was the starting quarterback for 2010's 7-2 season and 2011's 8-2 season.

Unrein made most of his plays with his legs, totaling 890 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns -- both were third most in the WAC. But Unrein struggled with his passing, completing just 37.2 percent of his passes for 541 yards and six touchdowns.

Hays High senior wide receiver Adam Deterding said Unrein and Delton have similar explosiveness with their legs, but when it comes to passing, the 15-year-old is in a league of his own.

"Not to say anything bad about Austin because he did a great job, but (Delton) does throw the ball a lot better," Deterding said. "He's a great player."

That's quite the compliment, considering Unrein earned all-WAC honorable mention honors last season.

Delton, who has played football since third grade, didn't start playing quarterback until his seventh grade year. He said one of his coaches noticed his arm strength and suggested he make the transition from running back to quarterback.

"My seventh grade year was real tough," he said. "I wasn't the best."

However, he worked at it and was raising people's eyebrows during his eighth grade season.

"I watched Alex play (as an eighth grader)," Cardinal said. "You could definitely tell he was good."

During his freshman season, Delton saw limited action, but he finished with 13 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown and completed 6-of-11 passes for 60 yards and no interceptions.

In Cornelsen's first three years at Hays High, the Indians predominantly have run the ball, but with Delton, the Indians will be able to expand and run a more balanced offense.

"The plan is to throw the ball and do more stuff that we haven't done in the past, like a spread-type offense," Delton said. "You haven't seen that a lot from Hays High, and that's a thing we are going to change. We are going to catch some teams off guard hopefully."

Delton is the youngest person in the huddle, but he said he doesn't feel like it.

"I feel comfortable with each one of those guys," he said. "They all became pretty good friends with me. Yeah in reality, I am a lot younger than them, but I feel pretty normal around them."

Delton said he spent extra time this summer with coaches to master the playbook and prepare for the season, and this fall, he has the opportunity to learn from arguably one of Kansas' greatest coaches -- Cornelsen's father Gary.

Gary Cornelsen, who produced four state championships and three state football runner-up finishes in Class 5A in 14 years at Liberal, is coaching quarterbacks and defensive ends at Hays High.

"Having a guy that's been around it that long and won that many games with his knowledge level of the game (benefits Delton)," Ryan Cornelsen said. "You'll see that in Alex -- his understanding of the game and understanding how to manage games and how to find a play to win at the end."

Delton might not be old enough to drive a car or go by himself to a rated-R movie, but on Friday, he will make his debut as the leader of a Hays High squad aspiring to accomplish something no other Indian football team has done -- win a state title.

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