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Prep preview '13 -- Quarterback battle in Monarchs' preseason

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

The week of the La Crosse game in late September last season wasn't a good one for the Thomas More Prep-Marian High School quarterbacks.

It started when backup quarterback Max Megaffin broke his collarbone at Wednesday's practice, putting an end to his season. Two days later the team's starter, Shane Zimmerman, suffered an ankle injury that would keep him out of that night's game.

That left freshman Jared Vitztum to lead the 1-3 Monarchs against the mighty Leopards, a team that would eventually make it to the Class 2-1A state semifinals.

"It was a lot of pressure and it was really sudden," Vitztum said. "Shane went down and I had to go right in, not warming up or anything. They threw it all at me right away. I tried to handle it the best I could."

The end result was a 50-0 win for La Crosse, but it gave Vitztum valuable in-game experience that otherwise would have gone to Megaffin, then a sophomore.

"I felt like that would have been my opportunity to earn some respect from my teammates by stepping in and helping them out as best I could," Megaffin said. "But Vitz stepped in there, and he did a good job last year for a freshman quarterback being thrown right into the fire."

With Zimmerman's graduation, Megaffin and Vitztum have been battling all summer to take his spot at the top of the depth chart, a battle that will likely go all the way to the season's opening kickoff on Friday against Ellinwood.

Regardless of who wins the job, TMP will have a much different quarterback leading them than in previous seasons.

"The last few years we've had to take a guy and transition him into a quarterback. Last year we had Shane Zimmerman, who for three years had played wide receiver for us," TMP coach John Montgomery said. "This year we have two guys in Max Megaffin and Jared Vitztum who are quarterback guys. This is the position they play."

Both Megaffin and Vitztum are prototypical pocket passers. Megaffin is 6-foot-1, with Vitztum about an inch taller. Both possess strong arms and are undoubtedly quarterbacks. Although neither are great runners, something Zimmerman was good at.

Whether this ends up being good or bad is anyone's guess.

"I've always liked the pocket passers a lot more. Shane was kind of a head case trying to figure out where he's going to go," senior lineman Adam Schibi said. "It seems like these guys can read the pocket pretty good and know where to deliver it. If they need to get out, they can get out, but it's not always a guessing game for us."

Megaffin entered the offseason as the leading candidate to win the starting quarterback job despite his lingering physical setbacks. His collarbone healed in time for basketball season, but it took him well into the summer before he was back in football shape.

"It wasn't the best of situations but you got to go through it," Megaffin said. "I was rusty. My arm strength was very, very pathetic after coming back from the collarbone injury. It took me a while to get the strength back."

What stood out to the coaching staff more than Megaffin's physical skills was his work ethic and desire to get better. It was Megaffin who led a lot of the team's offseason workouts, a key reason he entered the season as a slight favorite to win the starting job.

"He comes in as a guy that has really worked to develop individually," Montgomery said of Megaffin. "And not only as a player with skills, but also as a leader. His maturity has grown tremendously from sophomore year to junior year."

But hot on his heels has been Vitztum, the only one of the two to have started a varsity game. Vitztum was also the junior varsity quarterback a season ago, giving him a lot of experience to work with despite being a year younger than Megaffin.

"He delivers a nice ball. We are just working on a lot of things that are typical of a young kid who is a sophomore," Montgomery said of Vitztum. "But the great thing is he's a competitor and he comes to work every day looking to get better. He wants to be a good quarterback."

And something both players have is a desire to do what's best for the team. While they have been competitive in practice, always trying to one-up the other, they have been able to remain friends off the field.

Seeing the two interact in person, it's impossible to tell they are in a heated race only one will win. But whoever that winner is, there is little doubt that each will have each other's back regardless of who is taking the snaps.

"It's going to be disappointing for whoever is stuck on the bench," Megaffin said. "But it's what is best for the team. We are trying to have a great season as a team and whoever fits that role is going to get it."