Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of eight feature stories on Mid-Columbia Conference 3A-4A football players that will kick off the 2012 high school season. The Tri-City Herald will present one story a day until its prep football preview Aug. 31.
As a quarterback, Zach Whitby always has been right for the part.
He’s confident, sturdy and strong with no fear of making a big throw downfield. His humility keeps him grounded within the team concept, but his personal desire to win is unmatched.
In his first two varsity seasons, however, Whitby started the season as the No. 2 man on the depth chart. But when the offense sputtered, his coaches knew who to turn to.
The 5-foot-10 junior recalled his first varsity start as a freshman at Pasco, a school with a tradition of great quarterbacks, during a blowout loss to Kamiakin.
Whitby played just one quarter but made a memorable impression on the Braves’ starting defense.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” Whitby said. “We were losing like 31-0. The coach (Dustin Lamb) called me, and I thought, ‘Oh, crap.’ ”
But after an 11-play, 67-yard drive, Lamb was ready to move forward with his young star.
“He’s our future,” Lamb said at the time.
Whitby was the future. It just happened to be with another CBBN team.
He transferred to Richland before his sophomore year and found himself second in line to senior Colter Quick, who started five games before giving way to Whitby for a key matchup against Wenatchee in Week 6.
“I’m never nervous before a game, but I was a nervous wreck,” Bombers coach Mike Neidhold said of his team’s eventual 24-0 win over the Panthers. “He ran a little bubble screen on that first play, and I started to feel better. He made plays in that game that made me a genius.”
Richland’s offense started picking up speed after Whitby took over, rolling up more than 700 yards over his first two games. Despite getting just half the starts that year, Whitby finished fifth in the CBBN 4A with 1,122 yards passing and led the league with a 64.6 completion percentage (95-for-147).
This is the year, however, that all eyes will be on Whitby as the No. 1 option at quarterback. With a full year of studying under Richland quarterbacks coach Tom Moore, the Basin City native is champing at the bit to get things started.
“He’s a great coach. You can tell he’s been a coach for a long time,” Whitby said of the father of former Boise State star Kellen Moore, now with the Detroit Lions. “He’s always talking about timing and footwork.”
Whitby excels in a dropback passing game, but he’s not afraid to run and shoot, either.
“I like to bootleg right and run to the outside,” Whitby said, shrugging off any doubts about his speed. “I’m fast enough, in my opinion.”
And certainly tough enough to lead a Richland offense that should see a big boost in the passing game.
“We looked like a running team, but at the end of last year, there was a 150-yard difference between our rushing and passing numbers,” Neidhold said. “We’ve got a good mix of run and play-action.”
What should help the Bombers is an infusion of talent from the Richland basketball program, including two major receiving targets in 6-6 Nathan Streufert and 6-4 Spencer Wheeler.
Whitby looks forward to erasing the bitter memory of what could have been a glorious postseason run for Richland in 2011. Instead, the Bombers fell short of the state playoffs amid infighting and discord among the ranks down the stretch.
He said this year will be different.
“We’ve changed a lot,” Whitby said. “There’s a very different attitude this year.”
Whitby blames himself for some of what went wrong last year, including a 40-31 loss to Eisenhower that could have reversed Richland’s fortunes.
Neidhold accepts that, but he also wants Whitby to learn how to control his emotions when things don’t go according to plan.
“I like my quarterbacks to be flatliners who keep their wits about them. You can’t get too excited or down during a game,” he said. “I see him being a leader. He’s so advanced in his skill set, you forget he’s a junior.”
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org