High School Sports

Bearcats armed and ready

Rock Hill quarterbacks Jonathan Meeks, left, and Jujuan Crockett.
Rock Hill quarterbacks Jonathan Meeks, left, and Jujuan Crockett.

Jajuan Crockett turned more than a few heads last year when, as a freshman, he got his first taste of varsity football.

Rock Hill was being blown out by Irmo in the second round of the Big 16 playoffs, and coach Joe Montgomery decided to throw Crockett to the wolves.

Crockett had spent the season guiding the Bearcats' 9th-grade team to an 8-1 record and was brought up to the varsity for the playoffs as a reward.

He stood and watched as the Bearcats beat Spring Valley in the first round, never expecting to play no matter how far Rock Hill advanced. But when the Bearcats fell way behind in their second game, Montgomery sent Crockett on the field late in the first half.

Crockett passed for 279 yards and three touchdowns, two long ones thrown to starting quarterback Jonathan Meeks.

That was that.

The Bearcats had found their quarterback of the future, or so it seemed.

"It was a big surprise when coach Montgomery put me in,'' Crockett said. "I was nervous, but knew I had to step up and help the team any way I could.

"We didn't win the game, but it was good experience getting to play in the playoffs as a freshman. Coach Montgomery told me I was going to be the starter this year and worked with me all summer. I'm still learning.''

Crockett's progress was slowed when he suffered a shoulder injury against Chester in The Herald Football Jamboree. He started Rock Hill's first game, a 16-10 loss to South Aiken, and has since shared time with Meeks.

They will share time again tonight, when the Bearcats host Greenville at District Three Stadium.

Montgomery quickly points out the Bearcats are not going to be a two-quarterback team if he can help it. The plan is to get Crockett caught up and move Meeks to wide receiver because Meeks also starts at safety.

"That's been our plan all along,'' Montgomery said. "Jajuan is coming along and is getting better. But there are several parts of the situation that have slowed him.

"He's inexperienced, and the shoulder injury didn't help. We also had an issue with our offensive line that we have hopefully fixed. We moved our tight end and one of our defensive linemen to the tackles and flipped our tackles to the guard spots.''

The move paid off last week. Montgomery used both at quarterback and the offense caught fire. Rock Hill won its first game, 38-18 over Fairfield Central.

Time will determine when the Bearcats hand the job off full-time to Crockett and put Meeks at wide receiver. But regardless of when it happens, Meeks said there is no quarterback controversy and that he wants to play wideout.

Meeks has always played receiver and was moved to quarterback out of need last year. He struggled at times, excelled at others.

The advantage of Crockett settling in at quarterback is Meeks will have time to rest on offense. He's one of Rock Hill's fastest players and is an outstanding defensive back, the position he'll play in college.

"We didn't go into the season with the plan for me to play quarterback,'' said Meeks, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior. "As soon as Jajuan is ready, he'll take over and I have no problem at all with that.

"I had to learn last year. He's having to learn this year. He has a good touch and is very accurate. He could run more, but would rather throw. I told him it'll get easier as the season goes along.''

Crockett, a 5-7, 145-pound sophomore, has played quarterback since he started playing on the Richmond Drive Small Fry team.

Where Meeks is a runner who makes things happen with his speed and feet when a play breaks down, Crockett is a pure drop-back passer.

Crockett credits Montgomery with his progress because he never gives him more than he can handle. He said learned a lot from quarterbacks coach Willis Burkett, who pushes him hard.

"Coach Burkett tells me to take my time and not get nervous, to take it step by step and not make it hard on myself,'' Crockett said. "But it's good. I could end up being a three-year starter before I'm done, and that will help me get better. If I listen to my coaches and keep improving, I could end up getting a scholarship, but the important thing is helping the team win.''

Meeks can see that Crockett is making progress. And he knows it's not time to push the panic button just because the Bearcats are 1-2.

"Last week's win gave us confidence,'' Meeks said. "As far as we are concerned, the season just started and we are 1-0. That game showed we are a lot a lot better team than one with two losses.''