The Zach Attack
Late in the second quarter of Manassas Park’s season-opening win over Amelia County, head coach Jeff Lloyd watched quarterback Zach Terrell squeeze a deep spiral in between two defenders, hitting receiver A.C. Fitchett for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
“Damn,” Lloyd recalls saying after seeing the throw. “That’s really nice. I’ve got that for two more years.”
It’s not uncommon for a quarterback-receiver tandem to generate excitement, but at Manassas Park, the two in question are sophomores.
Terrell, unbeaten in three games as the varsity starter, has already begun to carve out an athletic legacy for the Cougars. As a freshman, he led the ninth-grade football team to an 8-0 record and started at third base for the varsity baseball team. Lloyd, who also coaches baseball, said Terrell came through with big hits whenever the team needed one.
This fall, he’s dropping jaws by avoiding big hits.
The quiet 15-year-old has thrown for 445 yards and seven touchdowns, but has added an extra dimension to Manassas Park’s new spread offense with his running.
“He’s got the athletic ability when things go bad,” said Lloyd, “to make something out of nothing. [Graduated two-year starter] Danny Kettler had the same ability, but he didn’t have the athletic ability that Zach has.”
On his third play as a varsity starter, Terrell ran right, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and scooted 51 yards for a touchdown. He rushed for 96 yards in last Friday’s 38-0 win over Page.
Terrell’s early success has brought quite a bit of praise to a young signal-caller who says he still needs to work on his footwork and coverage reading.
“I’ve gotten lots of publicity,” Terrell said. “People I don’t even know, when I walk around school, will tap me on the shoulder and say ‘good game.'”
Though the good press has sparked a friendly rivalry among the skill players at Manassas Park, Terrell said he isn’t buying into it.
“When I do good, I’m happy about it, but I don’t believe I’m [that] good. I play the same way every week.”
His teammates, some being guys he’s known since he started playing GMFL football at age 5, haven’t treated him much differently — except for the good-natured ribbing they give him.
“Hey, we’re about to practice, we need Zach,” yelled one ready-to-warm-up teammate as his quarterback did an interview in the shade on Wednesday. Terrell said it was worse the day before, as players jokingly asked for his autograph after a photographer had visited practice for him.
“Being in the atmosphere around all the older kids … I’ve gotten used to it,” Terrell said.
To be certain, Terrell is still a sophmore on a team led by its seniors, including vocal running back/safety Price Ward.
“[The emotional leadership], that’s Price’s job,” said Lloyd. “Zach, he leads by what he does. He’s a quiet kid, and I don’t need him to be a vocal kid, except in the huddle.”
Terrell and Lloyd have a strong teacher-student relationship. As coach and player, each understands where one benefits the other.
“Mr. Lloyd’s been real good to me,” Terrell said. “He helps me through everything.”
Terrell says that help ranges from pre-game pep talks to explanations of ways to see the field better.
“The thing that’s so amazing is he’s 15,” Lloyd said. I’m hard on our QBs. “I expect a lot from him. I sometimes have to remind myself that he’s only 15.”
The tutoring continues, because Lloyd knows that eventually, upcoming opponents will begin to double-team Fitchett, who has four receiving touchdowns in three games, and Terrell won’t be able to rely on the long pass. Lloyd wants him to better see underneath routes and not absorb as many hits when he runs the ball.
Separately, Terrell says the same things about his own game that Lloyd says. Terrell is best when he sprints out, but needs to improve on three- and five-step drops.
Though Terrell estimates that he’s 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Lloyd said his talent would make him a similar contributor at a larger (Group AA or AAA) school.
“A lot of people think single-A football isn’t good football,” said Lloyd. “We’ve got good players, just less of them.”
“We’ve got a couple of kids who can get their education paid for to play this game,” said Lloyd, even though he thinks Terrell’s first love might be baseball. “If he performs, [recruiters] will find him.”
Lloyd said Terrell was raised well by his parents, which becomes obvious when the 15-year-old credits his offensive line for much of his success and says he wants to set an example for his 9-year-old brother Dominique when he’s on the field.
“It’s more than playing well,” he said. “[If someone takes a cheap shot at me], it’s getting up and not retaliating.”
The road gets undoubtedly tougher for the Cougars, who play back-to-back games against defending state champion Washington & Lee-Montross and at defending Bull Run champion Strasburg on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. Those two teams handed Manassas Park three losses during last year’s 6-5 campaign.
But whatever happened last year is old news as long as the Cougars have their future under center.
“I knew he’d be able to help us immediately,” Lloyd said, “but I’d be lying if I told you I thought he’d be this good this quickly.”