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When Eli Mitchell graduated from John Hardin High School earlier this year, there was a swell of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. It was the same doubt that was cast when Alex Dingle graduated in 2010.
Dingle led the Bulldogs to the Class 5-A state semifinals as a junior and the championship game the following year. Mitchell guided the team to back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals.
The heir apparent to Mitchell was junior Patrick Anderson, who was unproven but extremely gifted. Even John Hardin coach Mark Brown wasn’t sure what to expect from Anderson in his first year under center.
The 5-foot-11, 162-pound Anderson has surpassed everyone’s expectations – even his own – this season, guiding the Bulldogs to a perfect 12-0 mark entering tonight’s Region 2 showdown with Jeffersontown (8-4). He has thrown for 1,716 yards and 26 touchdowns, which is the third-best single-season mark in the program’s history.
“I never expected that,” Brown said. “I had no idea he’d have 26 touchdowns and 1,700 yards. I thought he’d probably break 1,000 yards being a first-year quarterback. When he threw that deep pass against Henry Clay to Dorian (Collins), that surprised me. His arm is stronger than I thought. He’s been better than what I thought.”
The knock on John Hardin coming into the season was its passing game. Could the Bulldogs throw the ball effectively enough to prevent teams from stacking the box to take away their running game?
Anderson answered that question the first game with his 174-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 44-27 victory over Henry Clay. The four scoring passes were a record for a quarterback in his John Hardin debut.
“He did good on the junior varsity level,” John Hardin senior halfback Wade Holtsclaw said. “He’s a great athlete and he’s mobile in the pocket. He’s surprised us. He’s made several good throws throughout the year. He does a good job with his checks and audibles. He plays like a veteran. The passing game was supposed to be our weakness. It’s our strength. The running backs are going to have to pick it up.”
Anderson feels more confident and assertive now than he did the first week. His growth has impressed his teammates.
“Throughout the year, he’s stepped up his leadership,” John Hardin senior halfback Jalen Fleming said. “He’s grown up tremendously. He’s so smart with the ball. He doesn’t force the passes. He reads the right keys. He’s a big reason why we are where we are.”
Anderson, though, downplays his role. He views the title of starting quarterback simply as a title, a job description. He’s not concerned with his individual statistics. Anderson admits he didn’t even know how many completions, yards or touchdowns he had.
“I worry about the team,” Anderson said. “I paid attention to Dorian’s statistics. I wanted him to get 1,000 (yards). I’m not worried about my own (statistics). I guess they’re pretty good. Individually, I didn’t have any goals. I just wanted to help this team win a state championship. I didn’t care if I had to pass for 25 touchdowns or run for 25 touchdowns.”
Brown said Anderson’s team-first attitude is the primary reason he’s been so successful. Anderson’s only concern is whether the team wins, not how many touchdowns or yards he had. That attitude follows in the footsteps of his predecessors.
But his numbers are eerily similar as well to what Dingle and Mitchell did as juniors. Mitchell completed 79-of-146 passes (54.1 percent) for 1,678 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first season. Dingle, who started as a sophomore, passed for 1,175 yards and 20 scores, and completed 109-of-186 passes (58.6 percent) for a school-record 29 touchdowns. Dingle threw only six interceptions as a junior and Mitchell had 10 picks.
Anderson has completed 54.8 percent of his throws and he’s only been picked off six times in 135 attempts. He has at least two touchdown passes in 10 games and he’s had only one game where he hasn’t thrown a touchdown. Anderson has thrown for more than 100 yards in nine games, including three 200-yard performances.
“I learned a lot from watching them,” Anderson said. “Their drive and work ethic stood out. They always wanted to get better and make the team better. I felt I’ve learned from that.”
Brown said Anderson’s athletic ability allows him to escape from pressure. Anderson has rushed for 89 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries. It’s not about the yards to Brown but avoiding negative plays that has had a positive effect on the offense.
“He makes things easier with his running ability,” Brown said. “If he feels pressure, he can buy some extra time. If it’s not open, he can take off running. We haven’t had that since Jerren (Morning).”
Last season, Anderson gained varsity experience, just not as a quarterback. He started on defense at cornerback and was part of the rotation at wideout where he caught five passes for 68 yards and two scores. He also completed the only pass he threw backing up Mitchell. But a broken collarbone caused him to miss six games and he was reinjured against Bowling Green in the state semifinals.
Despite the injuries, Anderson wasn’t deterred about taking over at quarterback, calling the injuries two freak accidents. He has won over his teammates with his hard-nosed playing style and his leadership.
“He’s a lot more confident now,” John Hardin senior fullback Garrett Ray said. “I remember the first game he came into the huddle he said, ‘Let’s go run the ball until the cows come home.’ It’s what Coach Brown always says. I think he’s the X-factor for us. He’s the one thing we lacked last year.”
His meteoric rise hasn’t happened by chance. Anderson has put in the time on the field and off of it, studying film and working in the weight room. Brown called Anderson “a smart kid.” Anderson said he reads defenses much better and his decision making has improved.
Anderson understands the pressure that comes with playing quarterback. A quarterback receives too much praise when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. That’s the life of a quarterback, but Anderson doesn’t let it bother him.
“At quarterback, there are a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “You’re going to have bad plays or bad games and you’re going to have good plays and good games. It kind of all falls on your shoulders.”
Anderson’s shown his shoulders are broad enough to handle the load and erase the uncertainty and doubt that hung over the program at the beginning of the year.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.