PILOT POINT — When it came time for Pilot Point to recover from a disappointing 2011 season, the team’s offense was placed in the hands of a sophomore who didn’t have his driver’s license, a kid who went winless in five starts as a freshman.
Last season, quarterback Travis Garrett was asked to fill in when necessary — a prescription for a team plagued with injuries. He was one of five freshmen on the field in Pilot Point’s humbling 60-7 loss to Whitesboro in the season finale.
This year, with Pilot Point back in Class 2A after a short stint in Class 3A, Garrett and the Bearcats have put last season’s woes well behind them.
This year’s team already has surpassed the number of wins (two) from 2011, as its sophomore quarterback has led it to a 3-0 start.
“Last year he was nervous — he was real nervous,” Bearcats wide receiver Mason Richey said. “But this year I think the nerves have gone away. He’s more confident in his game, and more people need to trust him in order for him to feel good. I think he feels comfortable now.”
In the past two games, it seems he’s been comfortable when Pilot Point needs him to lead the offense in the fourth quarter.
Two weeks ago against Lindsay, he led the Bearcats down the field for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 33-24 comeback victory against the Class A school. He only threw the ball six times and had two completions, but he ran for 213 yards two rushing touchdowns.
Last week against Sanger, he was needed late in the game again. Once again, he delivered.
Pilot Point trailed by one point late in the game and needed to drive 97 yards for a touchdown. With help from running back Tristan Jurecka and Richey, he took the team down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard run with 1:09 left.
The 6-0, 170-pound sophomore said that with everybody playing their roles, he hasn’t had to bear any unnecessary burdens.
“I think it’s not just me that has pressure; it’s everyone that has pressure,” Garrett said. “A bunch of the older people take pressure off of me by doing their job, and that’s pretty much how I picture it. If everyone does their job, I don’t have to stress about doing anything extra.”
Coming into his own
Last season as a freshman, when most kids are on the junior varsity squad, Garrett was asked to help a varsity team in the midst of a daunting district schedule. Quarterback Aaron Buckingham was repeatedly suffering injuries, and Pilot Point head coach Rob Best moved Garrett into the starting role to fill in for Buckingham.
Garrett had come to Pilot Point from Bartlesville, Okla., in eighth grade as a running back. He got to Pilot Point and then played quarterback in his final year of middle school.
Last season, Pilot Point lost all five games he started. The fact that eight starters missed a combined 32 games last season didn’t help.
The young quarterback took the struggles in stride.
Occasionally in practice, kids jokingly gave Garrett a hard time when he slipped up. But he knew it was all in good fun because the team felt like a close group of friends.
“Nobody looked down on me as a freshman,” Garrett said. “Everybody was on the same level as a team.”
Bearcats defensive back/wide receiver Austin Trinklein is one of 13 seniors returning from last season — a contingent wanting to end their high school days with a playoff run that was absent from last year’s campaign. Trinklein said that with Garrett as the full-time starter, things feel much better than they did in 2011.
“I think we feel safer with him at quarterback,” Trinklein said. “He’s gained our confidence, from scrimmages, practice and all that.”
Garrett has racked up 399 yards on the ground in three games, surpassing the 150 rushing yards he had last season. Garrett’s head coach said the team’s three wins have helped the young quarterback mature.
“Leadership happens through confidence and success,” Best said. “He’s experienced some success, so he’s gaining in confidence. Also, the other players around you have to recognize your skills and be willing to follow. Being a leader is one thing, but you have to have followers, too.”
Best is quick to note that his quarterback needs to improve in throwing the ball and not committing turnovers. Richey said Garrett has the tendency to drop his head and take his mistakes harshly before the team’s senior leaders come over to cheer him up.
“He needs to improve on all kinds of things,” Best said. “He’s playing very well. I think he can improve his play exponentially. The physical skills are there; he just needs to continue to work on his fundamentals every day.”
Back to the playoffs
When Garrett turned 16 on Tuesday, he was as nervous as he had been before any football game.
Garrett wasn’t being tested by opposing defenses. He was being tested for his driver’s license.
“If I did fail it, everyone would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you failed your driving test,’” Garrett said.
He ended up scoring a 98 on the exam, with two points possibly being deducted because he overshot a turn. He did, however, nail the parallel parking portion of the test.
As he walked up for his picture, he wore a broad smile across his face. The woman who took his photo told Garrett, “Try not to look so excited for your picture.” He ended up staring sternly into the camera.
When the Bearcats travel to face Aubrey on Friday, Garrett will continue working on the task of leading a team with three state championships back to the playoffs.
“It’s a big deal to be that young and to be the quarterback, especially for a Pilot Point football team with all the tradition here,” Richey said. “I’m proud of him. He’s done pretty well so far.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .