Johnny Ray never imagined himself as the quarterback of an offense so sophisticated and complex as the run-and-shoot.
In fact, as recently as a month ago, he couldn't imagine himself as a quarterback, no matter the formation.
Back on August 15, the first day of football practice at North County High, Ray stood among the players hoping to make the team as a receiver.
The run-and-shoot? Let someone else worry about engineering it each Friday night. Who needed the frustration and embarrassment?
"I just didn't think I would be able to run it," he says. "I didn't think I'd remember any of the plays. I thought it was too complicated to remember."
Fortunately, Knights coach Chuck Markiewicz wasn't listening.
Ray currently is the leading passer in the county, guiding a 3-1 team and posing a serious threat to Anne Arundel record-holders.
After four games, Ray has thrown for 786 yards and six touchdowns. This, despite not being what Markiewicz calls "your prototypical run-and-shoot quarterback."
"But he's making himself into one," Markiewicz is quick to add. "Right now, he's the best we've got."
He soon may become the most productive the county has seen. The record for most passing yards in one season is 1,630, set in 1988 by Brooklyn Park's Dave Fajerski. The mark for most touchdown passes is 16, by Southern's Bob Holman in 1971.
The thought of establishing records is somewhat overwhelming for a kid who served as a third-string quarterback at Brooklyn Park last year. He made five starts, mostly handing the ball off in the Bees' Wing-T offense.
"A good night for me last year was, maybe, 45 yards," he says. "When I got the 100 yards in the first game (vs. Meade), it wasn't the type of yards you're supposed to get with this offense, but still, it was a lot for me. I just want to get more and more."
Not that Ray and the run-and-shoot hit if off immediately. Like with any new relationship, there was a period of adjustment.
The Knights only scored 15 points in their first two games - despite Ray's 267 yards passing - and critics of the offense laughed at the skimpy numbers.
Markiewicz says, "I knew all along it was just a matter of the quarterback and receivers getting in sync and Ray making the proper reads.
Kids don't go out and do that right away."
It took until the third game, against Queen Anne's, for the North County offense to gel. Ray completed 27 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-21 win.
"The pressure is off now," Markiewicz had said afterward. "They know we can run-and-shoot. It's incredible what this does for attitudes, even for the coaches.
"My wife had asked me, if we hadn't done well, would I have gone back to the Wing-T? I told her 'Absolutely not.' We're committed to it.
Run-and-shoot football is fun football."
Not for an opposing coach trying to devise a game plan to stop it.
Queen Anne's coach David Cooper had scouted North County during its 7-6 win over Meade on Sept. 7. What he saw two weeks later was a different quarterback, and a different team.
"We saw (Ray) against Meade and felt he rushed things a little bit," Cooper says. "He tended to throw off his back foot, like most kids will. We felt the key for us was to pressure him, but we only sacked him twice in 50 attempts. When he had time and some space in front of him and could set his feet, he was very effective.
"The key was to put pressure on him or he'd find the open receiver. He certainly did that. It looked to me like they were all open."
The same was true last Friday, when Ray threw for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 33-0 win over Calvert. The Knights scored 26 points in the first quarter and never looked back.
Ray credits his offensive linemen for much of the recent success.
"They have their blocking schemes down now," he says. "I have a lot more time back there. I can actually go back and set up and throw the ball, instead of running all over the place and just letting it loose."
Among the benefactors is sophomore receiver Damon Martin, who had seven catches -- one for a touchdown -- in the win over Queen Anne's.
"I think John's gotten pretty comfortable out there," says Martin, who switched from running back to receiver upon learning Markiewicz was installing the run-and-shoot.
"He's running plays a lot easier now, throwing more accurate passes."
Martin teams with John Bilheimer, Randy Swain and Troy Ross (seven receptions, 107 yards and two TDs last Friday) in the four-receiver set.
Ray says he does not play favorites.
"You see a silver helmet running around down there, you know it's your man and you throw it to him," he says.
Spoken like a true signal-caller. But Ray still does not envision himself as a run-and-shoot quarterback and probably never will.
"I picture myself as a guy who just goes out there and does what his coach asks of him," he says. "I try to do things as well as possible. And I'm having a lot of fun with this."