When Brian Fox was named Elyria Catholic’s head coach on Dec. 31, perhaps no player was more affected than senior quarterback Cameron Engrish.
Engrish was a starter for the 3-7 Panthers last year, and a new coach meant a new offense with new terminology, new pace and new philosophy.
The early returns are in, and things look pretty good so far for Engrish and the 2-0 Panthers.
Fox, who was the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Heidelberg College before coming to the Panthers, instituted an up-tempo West Coast offense, and Engrish has thrived in it.
In 10 games last season, Engrish completed 90 of 163 passes for 1,068 yards and six touchdowns. In Elyria Catholic’s season-opening wins over Brookside and Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s combined, Engrish has completed 40 of 53 passes for 634 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“As soon as Coach Fox got here … I had meetings with him and watched film,” Engrish said.
“I watched the offense at Heidelberg and we’ve been really working on it for a long time.
“When we got to the summer it was like I had played in the offense last year.”
Fox said he knew he had something special under center as soon as he saw Engrish, that the raw numbers from last season did not do justice to what his new quarterback could do … especially in the right system.
“It really hit me when I actually saw him throw,” Fox said. “That’s when I saw the kid could play. I saw him on film, but when I really dove into it I saw some of the things they were doing was not in his best interest between how they were protecting and zero-step throws.
“I know it was a completely different offense that involved moving the quarterback around a lot more, which is not his strength. Him on the move isn’t in our best interest.
“I think everything we’re doing in a West Coast scheme is going to be perfect for him because he’s good at it. He’s very good at a lot of things.”
Most West Coast offenses rely on quick-hitting passes that are more like long handoffs to the receivers near the line of scrimmage. Elyria Catholic’s is different in that Engrish and the Panthers air the ball out downfield.
Of his 40 completions this season, 26 have gone for 10 yards or more. Nine of those completions have gone for at least 24 yards. Even with the longer throws, the Panthers try to snap the ball as quickly as possible.
“A lot of the difference is tempo,” Engrish said. “We’re going a lot faster this year and we don’t huddle. Last year I was running back and forth to the sideline to get the plays. It’s great. The kids on the other team are puking and are getting tired.
“It’s a huge advantage. It’s also a completely different scheme. I think the run and the pass complement each other a lot more in this offense. They are both opened up a lot easier. There’s also a lot more downfield passing, which I think is a lot more suited to the players we have here.”
Not only has Engrish thrown the ball downfield more, he has spread it around. In the opener against Brookside he completed passes to seven receivers. Last week against the Vikings he hooked up with nine.
Elyria Catholic’s leading receiver is a sophomore, Jaret Frantz, who has caught seven passes for 134 yards. David Griffin, a senior, has seven for 79 yards and two touchdowns while junior Gavin Hrobat has six catches for 78 and two scores.
“I know there are a lot of guys on this team I can trust, from seniors to freshmen,” Engrish said. “The guys who have been working with me out here all summer in our volunteer workouts and running extra routes, they’ve been working their butts off.
“I trust them so much because they’ve prepared so well.”
Fox said that trust has been one of the most important factors in Engrish and the Panthers’ offensive success this season.
“There are a lot of quarterbacks out there who will not throw to certain guys,” Fox said. “They’ll see someone out there and bypass them in their read, or they will try to move guys around.
“He’s not like that. He went out in that first game against Brookside and in the first half drilled a freshman for a 13-yard catch. He even told us when he came off. He said he saw who it was, it was (Alex) Carandang, and said, ‘I’m throwing to a freshman. He’s about to get his first catch.’
“It’s a complete understanding of where the ball has to go and trusting his guys to make a play when it’s presented to them.”
Elyria Catholic is averaging 52 points per game despite playing with a running clock for the entire second half in both games. Its opponent this week, Cleveland Central Catholic, has given up 42 points per game. Engrish wants the Panthers to jump on the Ironmen early.
“It’s huge, definitely against a team like VASJ or a team like Cleveland Central Catholic this week … getting up 14-0 on those guys really buries them,” he said. “It gets them down on themselves. We have to put them to the point where they’re not willing to come back.
“Once we get up we’ve got to keep pouring on, and I think that’s what we’ve done the last two weeks.”
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