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PREP FOOTBALL: John Wilson becomes a leader at quarterback for Meade County (11/28)

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By Ryan O'Gara

There’s no debating the Meade County Green Wave deserve to be in the position they are, playing for their first state championship game berth since 1991, when they host No. 11 Louisville Butler (11-2) on Friday.

Their injuries have been minimal this season, but when they did have a key player hurt, they were fortunate to have an able backup getting healthy at just the right time.

It may have changed the course of ninth-ranked Meade County’s season.

When senior Zeb Wilson injured his shoulder against John Hardin in Week 3, his junior cousin John Wilson was just recovering from tendonitis in his right, throwing elbow. The two battled for the starting job during the preseason — offensive coordinator Glen Wilson said the coaches envisioned John starting at quarterback and Zeb playing a wing — but when John was unable to throw for six weeks, Zeb won it by default.

With John Wilson under center the last 10 games, the fit has been perfect for both players. Zeb Wilson has scored seven touchdowns this season and John Wilson has rushed for 524 yards and 10 scores as Meade County (11-2) has averaged 43.7 points in its last eight games.

Playing quarterback just suits John Wilson’s personality.

“He has those intangible qualities — he’s a smart kid, everybody likes him and he’s a leader,” Glen Wilson said. “He’s a leader without being a yelling and screaming-type leader. He’s a pat-you-on-the-back, ‘that’s all right, we’ll get them next time’ type of leader. That’s what most kids need.”

The transition wasn’t seamless, however. Though John Wilson had been playing quarterback his entire life, it took the offensive line some time to get used to him. Senior Matt Millay was the only returning starter up front, so suddenly changing styles was a lot to ask of an inexperienced group.

“We all knew John, but we didn’t know him, know him,” junior offensive lineman Michael Robey said. “But as the season has gone on, we’re as close as we can be. We know how to protect him, what his weaknesses are and what his strong points are.”

The Green Wave also implemented more option reads. Though Glen Wilson said Zeb would win in a straight sprint, John is much shiftier so Meade County has taken advantage with more inside veer and outside veer plays.

John Wilson said the offensive line’s progression throughout the year has been the key component of the team’s success. With Millay, senior Travis Jenkins, junior Tyler Compton, Robey and sophomore Aaron Whelan improving each game, the Green Wave have run for at least 296 yards in six of their last seven games.

The Green Wave play to the 5-foot-10 Wilson’s strengths, rarely asking him to pass from the pocket and instead using roll outs to help Wilson see. It also gives him the option to make a play with his legs.

“On normal drop-backs, it’s hard for me to see the linebackers,” Wilson said. “Trying to throw to Travis’ side, it’s like seeing over a 7-foot wall sometimes. It helps (to roll out) because if no one is open, I can just take off. That’s something the defense has to worry about, a little extra thinking.”

Running isn’t always the second option, however. Glen Wilson will call designed roll outs that are disguised as pass plays, but they are really just to get John Wilson in space.

For example, Wilson rolled out to his left on a third-and-8 on Meade County’s opening possession against Central Hardin last Friday. He faked like he was going to pass but had every intention of keeping the ball. He picked up the first down with a 12-yard gain, and the next play, senior Jonah Shacklett ran for a 45-yard touchdown.

Wilson has also become adept at recognizing what defenses are trying to do to the offense. When Central Hardin’s linebackers were lined up wide last week, leaving a hole in the middle of the field, Wilson signaled to guards Robey and Jenkins and center Millay to let them know he was going to sneak it. He ran 51 yards to set up another score from Shacklett.

“On quarterback sneaks, I don’t think (defenses) realize who has the ball because I just duck behind Matt Millay and he’s kind of a shield for me,” Wilson said. “A lot of times I don’t think they can see me. It can be an advantage to not being the biggest guy on the field.”

Wilson is, however, a work in progress through the air. He has completed 25-of-57 passes for 428 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

He has gone several games without completing a pass, but he’s also had some timely scoring strikes to spark the offense. Wilson connected with senior tight end Joby Embrey for a 57-yard touchdown to give the Green Wave the lead for good in the second quarter against Central Hardin in Week 8. He also connected with senior Nick O’Brien for two first-quarter touchdown passes in a win over Warren East in Week 5.

“I give him credit because there are times when he hangs in the pocket and he does have to throw over those guys,” said Embrey, who caught two passes for 36 yards last week. “He sees well for his height.”

While it’s possible Meade County would still be having the success they are with Zeb Wilson at quarterback, all parties are happy with the way it turned out.

“When (John) gets into that huddle, he loves it,” Glen Wilson said. “You hear about gym rats, and he’s a kid who loves football. He’s football 24/7. It shows when you watch him play. He has a smile on his face, ear-to-ear, even when he gets the crap knocked out of him.”

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com