Haddix takes big step in big program

Keith Farner

Somewhere in that thick Breathitt County accent, Justin Haddix tried to explain to me last Friday that he is ready to be the first true freshman to start at quarterback on the Hill since 1984.

He doesn’t worry about the fact that this season he’ll make the rather prodigious jump from AA high school to I-AA college.

It doesn’t matter that not only is he trying to make a name for himself on this level, he’s trying to do it with the 2002 national championship target on his chest.

“I really don’t put a lot of pressure on myself because I’ve got teammates around me that are going to make plays and I know I ain’t gonna have to do it all,” Haddix said.

Apparently that laid back attitude has been noticed by the coaching staff, who officially proclaimed Haddix the starter last Friday.

“I think he’s more mature than your typical college freshman,” coach David Elson said. “Part of the reason is because he’s played quarterback and no matter what level you play that position at, there’s pressure, there’s eyes on you all the time.”

But facing AA high school linebackers and I-AA college linebackers is about as similar as a Hot Wheels car and a tractor-trailer.

Take Illinois State’s Boomer Grigsby. Grigsby won the Gateway Defensive Player of the Year last season and picks up all-american honors like M&Ms out of a bowl. And he doesn’t even play on the best defense in the league.

But Haddix’s performance will ultimately be determined by how his teammates play around him. That was one of the forgotten factors last year. When injuries hit Western, backups such as Karl Maslowski, Antonio Thomas and Casey Rooney filled in and the team didn’t miss a step.

Injuries should be expected in football. That’s why backups are valuable.

But it’s still up to Haddix to give those backups a chance to perform.

Reach Keith Farner at [email protected]