SHINER -- The Shiner Comanches came into the 2011 preseason workouts with a pretty good idea of what they had.
Shinerís Jacob Stafford leaves a pair of Brazos defenders in the dirt while picking up yardage during a 53-10 win. photo by Cedric Iglehart
Shiner started slowly last year, but picked up enough momentum during district play to propel themselves three rounds deep into the playoffs. There were 15 returning lettermen on the field for the first day of two-a-days, but none of them were quarterbacks. So now the biggest question in the offseason became who would lead the Comanche offense into this seasonís campaign?
Head coach Steve Cerny and his staff found the answer in a mild-mannered, converted sophomore middle linebacker with no previous experience under center. In other words, enter Jacob Stafford.
Stafford has emerged as the teamís field general after going into the fall competing for the job with junior Brady Cejka, a standout at cornerback. Cerny said the decision to go with Stafford basically came down to value.
"We kind of looked at what we needed and in our secondary we knew for sure that we needed Brady back there," he explained. "The other thing we looked at was the size of the two kids and Jacob is a big, strong kid. Our quarterback position is demanding because we run the veer and we knew if Jacob had the quickness to do it, then he would be an asset to us. I feel really good about both of them, but because of what we needed offensively and defensively we felt like Jacob was the best choice."
With only previous varsity experience coming as a defender, Stafford said the learning curve for playing quarterback has been quite steep.
"Itís been different because I started out as a middle linebacker in my freshman year," he said. "Itís just a whole different mentality. You have to control the whole offense and know everybody elseís position. Itís been a really big transition."
The vastness of the change was abundantly clear after Shiner dropped their season opener 20-7 to Industrial. Stafford did fine running the ball with 51 yards on 12 carries, but he struggled in the passing game where he only completed three of his eight attempts for 14 yards with two interceptions.
"In the first game, things were just moving very fast for him," Cerny said. "He made some mistakes because he was overwhelmed. It was his first start plus we made him go both ways, so he never really had a chance to come to the sidelines and settle down."
Realizing that his performance needed some improving, Stafford became determined to turn his weaknesses from the Industrial game into strengths.
"Before we played Brazos I looked through my play sheets every day, so I knew the formations better and knew where everybody had to go," he said. "I came out a lot better and we performed better. Each week, you have to watch film and focus on doing the small things right."
His diligence paid huge dividends as Shiner rolled over the Cougars 53-10. Stafford ran for four touchdowns and started off the Comanche scoring fest by returning an interception 34 yards to paydirt. He also played well in the Comanchesí 21-14 loss to Schulenburg, the top ranked 2A team in the state, overcoming a slow start to rally the team in the fourth quarter.
"Against Brazos, the newness was gone and I saw him take charge out there," Cerny said. "It was a big improvement from the week before. He ran the veer well and there were some busted plays where he made something out of them."
"Heís the type of kid that loves football and heís going to come out every day and give it everything heís got. When youíve got a love for the game, itís going to show up in your performance."
The genesis of his football jones came when Stafford was a sixth-grader playing on a Crossroads Youth Football League (CYFL) team in nearby Yoakum under the direction of Jerome Perry.
"He was one of the best football coaches Iíve ever had," Stafford said. "He got me into the sport and made me hungry to hit, play, work and win. It just kind of clicked from there and Iíve loved football ever since."
The son of Dan and Lisa Stafford, Jacob said he gets tons of support from his family, which also includes his brother, Drew, and sister, Cassie. Drew was an established quarterback in his own right, earning District MVP honors after leading Shiner to the regional semifinals in his senior year.
"He calls me after every game and talks about the plays because he still remembers them all," Jacob said about his big brother. "He goes through them with me and helps to keep me focused."
Shiner is highly regarded this season with most across the state expecting them to once again go deep into the playoffs and possibly challenge for its first state football championship since 2004. Even though he bears a lot of the responsibility for the teamís success or lack thereof as its quarterback, Stafford understands the burden to produce is not just his alone.
"If you make yourself feel like you have to do everything, then youíll just break down under the pressure because thereís so much of it," he said. "You canít worry about what other people think, you just have to go out there and play. If you do that and work as a team, then youíre going to win."
"I think we can go all the way if we really put our hearts into it and believe that we can win. Itís all about believing and knowing what you can do. If we can get every single person on our team to believe, then weíll go all the way."