Skowhegan quarterback Adam Savage gets the pass off under pressure from Cony defensive end Casey Mills during a football game Saturday at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Savage’s pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Cony safety Sam Flannery. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Adam Savage knew he’d get his chance to start at quarterback for the Skowhegan football team. He knew it was coming as a middle schooler, and he knew it was coming as a freshman.

That chance arrived this season. Without a football season last fall, however, Savage couldn’t help but feel like he had fast-forwarded in time.

“It is pretty surreal to think I’m a junior at all. Sophomore year was a complete blur,” he said. “Mentally, it was more of a harder adjustment than I’d say physically, just because it was completely different going from being the kid who would sit on the sidelines cheering them on to being the one out there.”

Most starting quarterbacks in the state are in Savage’s position. They’re in their first years leading the offense, and because last fall was canceled due to the pandemic, they’re doing so either as seniors who made the jump from their sophomore years or juniors making that leap from their freshman season, without getting a year of football to develop in between.

Turnover at quarterback is constant in high school football, but in past years, there’s been a pattern. Starters to-be spend the year playing other positions, backing up or playing on either JV or freshman teams. Wherever they play, they’re immersed in football all the way up to when they get the nod behind center.

Gardiner quarterback Wyatt Chadwick (18) stretches for extra yards in a game against Old Town on Sept. 4 in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

This time, they’re taking over without that season of development. And that makes for a whole different challenge.


“A first-year starter, you’ve gone from eighth-grade games to now a full-on, varsity speed game,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said. “That can be quite a shock to the system.”

“They lost last year, and didn’t have the ability to manage the game. That’s the toughest thing. Managing a varsity game versus managing a JV game are entirely different things,” said Gardiner coach Pat Munzing, whose team is starting junior Wyatt Chadwick. “‘When are we in a hurry? If we’re in a tempo thing, I need to be in a hurry but I can’t overrun my shoes.’ Those things we can do within a practice scheme to a certain extent, but it’s an entirely different thing when you’ve got a couple thousand people screaming and yelling.

“Managing the game itself, as the quarterback and the leader out on the field, I think is the biggest hurdle that all these new quarterbacks are trying to overcome.”

Even quarterbacks that wouldn’t have started last season missed out. Maine Central Institute coach Tom Bertrand’s team is starting junior Kyle Hall at quarterback, and though Hall would have played behind senior Ryan Friend last year, Bertrand said even just seeing Friend in action would have been beneficial.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale quarterback Andrew Foster pitches the ball to running back Logan Baird during a Sept. 2 practice in Winthrop. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“For sure. If he had been playing as a sophomore … there’s no way that, just through simple osmosis and watching the reps and watching Ryan do it, that he wasn’t going to learn,” he said. “The pressure and the speed and the management of a varsity game is a transition that, until you do it and get some experience at it, it takes some time to get into that groove.”

Savage has been thriving so far this season, completing 45 of 63 passes for 489 yards over Skowhegan’s two games. He said, however, that managing the game has been the biggest adjustment.


“Just being more patient, not trying to go for the deep shot every time like I could in eighth grade,” he said. “(You need to) control the pace of the game. You really have it in your hands. You make the decision whether you go for the short ball every time or whether you want to throw the 30-yard-plus balls. You do have a lot of control over the pace of the game.”

Chadwick at Gardiner said his biggest challenge has been improving his reads.

“The toughest part is probably reading the defense, because there’s more people playing than 7-on-7,” he said. “You just have to get used to reading the defense and knowing your reads, and then getting it timed up with all your receivers.”

In some ways, the 7-on-7 flag and touch football that teams played in place of contact football last season did help bridge the gap.

“(It) was different, but it was still taking control of the offense and making all your reads,” Chadwick said. “It really helped me get into the mode of ‘OK, I’m the starting quarterback, I need to start stepping up my game and being a leader out here.'”

That’s the value Libby noticed as well.


“It helped, I wouldn’t say it was a ton of help,” he said. “It helps with relationships, it helps with understanding the speed of your receivers so you can get some timing stuff down.

“But 7-on-7 tends to be a go-for-big game. And without the other 50 percent of your game, which is the run game, there’s no real game management being taught.”

Coaches agreed that 7-on-7 didn’t properly take the place of contact football from a development standpoint — and, in some ways, was counterproductive.

“We want the quarterback first and foremost to be able to run the offense. … Well, we didn’t have any running plays last year,” said Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire, whose team has a new starter in senior Andrew Foster. “They were able to compete and still do football stuff. But there are more bad habits from 7-on-7 that it’s not real football.”

Now it is real football, with whole play sheets to understand and defenses to read and late-game pressure to endure. For new quarterbacks, ready or not, it’s been time to go.

“It’s a much bigger climb for these guys, and it has to happen quick,” Gardiner’s Munzing said. “They’re going from a Cessna two-seater to getting into a jet plane, and here they go.”

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