Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha.
Larkin Williams, No. 10, celebrates with receiver Andrew Cleveland after a reception against Pelham.
The Homewood High School football team entered spring camp in April with two quarterbacks set to compete for the Patriots’ starting job.
Junior Ty Hatcher and sophomore Larkin Williams were expected to duel throughout the summer before one emerged as the clear-cut choice.
The separation never occurred.
“I promise you, there are plenty of years that I would take either one of them at quarterback for two or three years,” said Homewood offensive coordinator David Jones. “They’re better than some guys that played for two years at quarterback for us in the past.”
That’s why — as of press time — Jones decided to play both Hatcher and Williams in the Patriots’ first two games of the season. If they consistently posted quality performances, Jones said he would continue to play both throughout the fall.
While balancing two quarterbacks may present unforeseen challenges to an offensive coordinator, that’s not the case with Jones. He has juggled the task before.
The result? A state championship.
Prior to the start of the 2000 football season, Jones found himself in need of advice.
Like the present situation, two underclassmen quarterbacks were entrenched in a close competition for the Patriots’ first-string position, and Jones said he wanted to make sure he gave each a fair shot at winning the job.
He said he solicited the wisdom of two coaches with ties to the University of Alabama: Dabo Swinney and Homer Smith.
Swinney, the current head coach at Clemson University, coached wide receivers in Tuscaloosa in 1999 and 2000 — two seasons when the Crimson Tide played a pair of quarterbacks in Andrew Zow and Tyler Watts. Smith served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 1988-1989 and 1994-1995.
“Homer said he had practiced before where there were two reps for one quarterback and two reps for the other,” Jones said. “He had done three and three and four and four and five and five. He said four and four seemed to work the best to get them both equally prepared.”
Jones began to install that strategy at Homewood practices, with sophomore Parker Gargis and junior Bragg Knott alternating repetitions. Eventually, Jones was told by Smith that one of the two would distance himself from the other.
Spring, summer and fall camp came and went, but the quarterbacks’ trajectories never diverged, Jones said.
As a result, Jones said the Patriots’ coaching staff opted to play both Gargis and Knott in the first two games of the season.
One quarterback started the first game, and the other started the second game. But regardless of who took the first snap, the quarterbacks cycled in and out every two series, Jones said.
Homewood went 1-1 to start the season, but neither quarterback outperformed the other. Another pair of equally productive showings in the Patriots’ region opener enabled the coaching staff to reach a conclusion, he said.
“We said, ‘This will continue until such time as one of you separates himself from the other one. If it stays the same, and right now you’re both being effective, then we’ll continue to do it,’” Jones recalled telling his quarterbacks.
Although the coaching staff reserved the right to delegate playing time based on performance, Jones said he was never forced to choose between the two. Gargis and Knott split time under center throughout the season, swapping in and out every two series.
The tandem carried the team to a 13-2 record and the AHSAA Class 5A state title, which the Patriots won in the game’s fifth overtime against Benjamin Russell High School.
Homewood played both quarterbacks again the following season in 2001 and won 14 games. The team returned to the state final, but lost to Benjamin Russell, 20-13.
“Both of them are in the top four and five in every passing category, except for one of them has more yards for his career because he played one more year than the other one did,” Jones said of Gargis and Knott.
While past success is no guarantee of future effectiveness, the tales of triumph from 2000 and 2001 represent the ideal results of a two-quarterback approach.
They also offer a blueprint for action, as Jones said that using both Hatcher and Williams could extend throughout the fall.
“There’s a part of you that wants them both to play all the time just like we did before, but I’m not going to do all that if one of them’s more productive, does better than the other one,” Jones said. “I told them in the past, ‘Your performance is going to make the difference.’”