Willingham steps in to starring role

October 05, 1992|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Rookies are not supposed to perform like this, at least not on opening day. Then again, Wilde Lake junior quarterback Seth Willingham is not a typical rookie.

Consider these fourth-quarter snapshots from his first varsity game last month in the season opener against South Carroll.

On fourth-and-inches, Willing- ham fools a handful of defenders with a textbook fake handoff, then scampers around right end for a 7-yard touchdown to put Wilde Lake on top, 14-7. During Wilde Lake's next possession, he stands cooly in the face of a fierce pass rush and lofts a deep pass to receiver Craig Butler, who catches the ball in stride and completes a 51-yard score.

When the day is done, Wilde Lake has turned a 7-7 tie into a 28-7 victory, thanks to a 21-point fourth quarter. All Willingham has done is complete four of five passes for 128 yards, run for a TD, throw for another and kick four extra points. All he has done is determine the outcome of the contest.

The following week, Willingham throws two TD passes to lead Wilde Lake to a 22-8 victory over Dundalk. Two weeks later in overtime, he kicks a 25-yard field goal through a driving rain. Wilde Lake wins, 3-0. Once again, Willingham is the difference.

"I feel pressure going into each game, but I try to stay calm and keep everyone else calm," says Willing- ham, who has remained calm enough to complete 19 of 40 passes for 401 yards and 3 TDs. He has rushed for 55 yards and a score. "I feel I've done good coming up [from the junior varsity] under pressure."

Pressure comes with the territory at Wilde Lake. The 4-1 Wildecats have won three state titles, including two straight, and had won 28 consecutive games until Southern (Anne Arundel) broke the streak with a 28-27 overtime victory two weeks ago. They have beaten 23 consecutive county opponents.

Willingham says the winning tradition drives him harder, forces him to prepare more studiously for each opponent. And he has plenty to master.

The Wildecats operate basically out of a wishbone offense, but occasionally they line up in a run-and-shoot formation with three wide receivers, or they call for Willingham to run option plays. It's a challenging package that few high school quarterbacks can grasp.

"Seth has a knack for moving a team, and he thinks offensive football," says Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall. "He can drop back, he can run the option, he executes the plays effectively. You can see him analyzing what's going on. He has command of the field."

The Wilde Lake coaching staff tries to contain its excitement while guessing what is in store for Willingham. His physical makeup and raw athletic ability hint at a bright future. At 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, Willingham presents a lanky, long-armed figure, but he still is growing. He wears a size 15 shoe, and already can dunk a basketball.

He also comes from a solid football family. His brother, Chris, starred at Atholton and plays linebacker for Shippensburg (Pa.) University. His 12-year-old brother, Zack, is a quarterback for his Columbia Bulldogs recreation team.

"My dad's [Don] competitiveness has rubbed off on all of us," Willing- ham says. "He's always telling me that nothing is going to be handed to me. I go out to every game, say a prayer, give 110 percent and try to leave everything on the field. That's what he taught me."

Midway through his first varsity season, Willingham still has much to learn. He needs to sharpen his concentration, so as to cut down on his interceptions. He already has thrown six. He wants to fine-tune his play fakes. He wants to make more history in a rich program.

"My goal coming in was to pass for over 1,000 yards. I didn't know if I could. But after the first few games, I think I can do that," he says. "That, and lead the team to the state championship again."

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