There’s an old football adage being seriously challenged this fall in Yankton.
‘If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.’
Why choose when you can have both?
The concept of using a two-quarterback offensive system may have seemed foreign. To coaches. To players. Everyone. Yet, the Yankton High School football program has made it work — thanks to a complete buy-in — this season with senior Trevor Fitzgerald and sophomore Rugby Ryken.
“I didn’t know what it was like coming into it, either,” Fitzgerald said, with a smile, before Monday afternoon’s practice.
“It’s definitely something different.”
But also rather successful for the second-seeded Bucks (8-1), who open the Class 11AA playoffs on Thursday night at home against Douglas.
In an age where everyone wants to be ‘the guy’ and wants to have an edge to be the starter, Fitzgerald and Ryken have developed a bond that has impressed their coaches and teammates.
“I’m very proud of both of them for the way that they’ve handled each other and the situation,” head coach Brady Muth said.
Fitzgerald, one of the state’s top offensive weapons, has completed 26-of-70 passes this season for 519 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 548 yards and 17 touchdowns — and has also returned a kickoff for a score.
Ryken has completed 48-of-87 passes for 732 yards and four touchdowns (with seven interceptions). He also carried the ball 26 times for 126 yards and a score.
Theirs is a true tale of completely different situations.
Fitzgerald was approached by the coaching staff last winter about possibly taking the quarterback reins following the graduation of Cooper Cornemann, last season’s starter.
“Coach Muth asked me if I wanted to play quarterback, and I said sure,” Fitzgerald said. “He said we needed a leader there, and I said I agreed.”
Fitzgerald spent this summer working on the transition and also worked with the Riggs Premier Football Academy up in Sioux Falls — “that helped me a lot,” he said.
“(He has) worked his tail off to turn himself into not only a good quarterback but a great leader for our team,” Muth said.
On the other hand, Ryken had been progressing through Yankton’s football levels and following a strong freshman season a year ago, was viewed as ready to step into varsity action.
“This is something he has had his eye on for a long time,” Muth said. “And I think it has been really good for him to be pushed and to become a much more competitive individual.”
Rather than choose, the Yankton coaches chose to play both quarterbacks this season.
Again, why choose when you can have both?
“It’s been great, having someone show me how to run things around here,” Ryken said.
While it’s rare that both quarterbacks are on the field at the same time (with Fitzgerald out there as a running back), Ryken said he has learned so much playing alongside and with Fitzgerald.
“Being in it a lot more with everyone helps out a lot, especially with Trevor there,” Ryken said.
It may seem natural that each quarterback wants to the main signal-caller for the Bucks, but they’ve embraced the idea that it’s best for the team to have both guys in the mix, according to Muth.
“I know both of them want to be on the field and that’s a tough spot to be in, but I also know they are also rooting for the other guy when he’s on the field,” he said.
Of course, full cooperation was going to be necessary.
A two-quarterback system doesn’t work if there’s any sort of animosity.
“We told them in the beginning of the season the only way this is going to work is if they both bought into it, and they both understood that this is what is best for the team,” Muth said.
The bond between Fitzgerald and Ryken was on display last week in a 41-0 loss in Brookings: During the period when they combined to throw an interception on five straight drives in the second half, they were among the first to greet each other with a supportive word on the sideline.
“Like Coach Muth says, we have to build each other up instead of thinking about ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “In practice and games, we’re always giving each other fist bumps and everything like that.
“We’re really close. I feel like that’s helped us together.”
If there has been a time when one quarterback had struggled, the other could come in and help keep the offense moving, and vice versa.
“It’s great, just knowing you have someone if you’re having a bad game, he can come in and do something,” Ryken said.
“Our games are totally different, which helps so much when opposing teams have to prepare for us.”
Ryken’s situation is, obviously, much different given that he is in his first season of varsity action.
“At the start, I was a little timid,” he said. “I started to relax a lot more as the season went along. Toward week three, I felt a groove.”
Although it certainly wasn’t the point to provide a life lesson, the situation with using both quarterbacks has given them exactly that: A life lesson.
“This world is a highly competitive place,” Muth said. “I hope as they grow and mature as men that they can lean on some of these lessons on competitiveness, and it helps them out in life.”
That’s ultimately what the coaches want, he added: For their players to someday thrive in a competitive situation and do what they need to make the team better — either in a family setting or in a workplace setting.
“Competitive people are successful people,” Muth said. “And these two guys are highly successful.”
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter