Slim to none?
No doubt you’ve heard of Russell Wilson, Jake McGee, and Wilton Speight.
Each fall during 804 Varsity Week when the Richmond Times-Dispatch runs its updated statistical leaders, those three names appear multiple times.
Wilson’s career extended from 2004-2006, McGee’s from 2007-2009, and Speight’s 2009-2013.
In the T-D ledger, this is how their numbers (and those of several others from Collegiate) shake out.
- Total career yardage: Speight (second, 9,263), McGee (third, 8,675), and Wilson (fifth, 8,077).
- Career passing yardage: Speight (third, 8,605,), McGee (fourth, 7,406), and Wilson (sixth, 6,291).
- Total career touchdowns: Speight (second, 110), Wilson (third, 105) and McGee (fourth, 101).
- Career touchdown passes: Speight (second, 87) and Wilson (fifth, 73).
- Wilson is the Central Virginia leader in one-season total yardage: 4,152 in 2006. He ranks third (40 in 2005) and sixth (33 in 2006) for TD passes in a season.
- In season passing yardage, Wilson’s 3,287 in 2005 ranks second all-time. His 3,004 in 2006 and McGee’s 3,004 in 2009 are tied for fourth. Speight’s 2,845 in 2013 is eighth overall.
- Wilson’s 55 combined passing and rushing touchdowns in 2005 and 50 in 2006 rank 2-3 on the all-time list.
- Speight is tops in longest TD pass, a 99-yard connection to David Thalhimer against Norfolk Academy in 2009.
- Zach Mendez, a favorite target of both Wilson and McGee, ranks third on the all-time list of receptions in one season: 70 in 2005.
- Jake Johnston’s 47-yard field goal in the 2016 state championship game tied him with Lee Wimbish (1979 against Virginia Episcopal) for seventh place.
So how does one school produce three QB’s spanning nine consecutive years who racked up such lofty numbers?
All are talented athletes, of course. Then and now, they were fearless, highly motivated, and intentional about their training and game preparation. They were students of the sport, coachable, and dedicated to both personal and team excellence. They had the ability to make teammates better.
Then there’s “the system,” a wide-open yet disciplined attack that’s fun for spectators and really fun for players.
“I just look at it as a multiple spread attack,” said Mark Palyo, the long-time offensive coordinator who became head coach in 2007. “We spread guys out around the field. We can go from one back to a pistol to a shotgun set to no backs. We can use a variety of receivers.”
To execute such schemes (which have resulted in seven VISAA championships and two runnerup finishes in the past 14 years), Palyo and his staff obviously need a “coach on the field” and receivers who understand the concept. Strong line play is essential. So is the coaches’ ability to analyze each player’s skills and put him in a position to succeed.
“Very much so,” Palyo said. “More recently, we’ve had some amazing running backs. Excellence Perry last year comes to mind. This year, Joe White and Nigel Williams. When you have that kind of talent in the backfield, it allows your attack to be more diverse than a 60-to-70 percent throwing team. You’re more balanced. That helps keep defenses off balance.”
Palyo offered thoughts about Wilson’s, McGee’s, and Speight’s prep careers.
Wilson, now in his sixth year as quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks:
Russell had an understanding of what we were trying to accomplish. He understood the various aspects of our opponents and had the commitment to learn and understand the game. He certainly had the throwing ability which he’s demonstrated to this day. His on-field vision was very, very impressive. He could be focused on one half of the field and know exactly where guys were on the other side and just turn and throw the ball and know that they’d be there.
McGee, now a tight end on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad:
Jake wasn’t happy with me his sophomore year because I wouldn’t let him play defense because I wanted him to work to understand the offense better. He was so competitive. He wanted to be on both sides of the ball. Jake’s growth from games 1, 2, and 3 his sophomore year to games 7, 8, and 9 was tremendous. We became a different team. He learned what we were trying to accomplish. He could always put great “touch” on the ball. He had confidence, not in an arrogant way but in a good, competitive way, that allowed him to be that great on-the-field leader. He could communicate with me. Jake would come with ideas and offer suggestions. That’s something I value with all the players and certainly with the quarterback.
Speight, now the Michigan Wolverines’ quarterback:
The first thing that impressed me was when Wilton was a freshman, I put him in a scrimmage with Colonial Forge. They were pretty stacked, and one time he stood in there and delivered the ball and got absolutely crushed. He showed such poise. He worked hard to develop his throwing. With Wilton, we became more of a zone-read team. The other guys might have had more rushing yards, but it was more of a scramble and run than anything specifically designed. With Wilton, we were doing some things that were specific runs in addition to throwing because he had the ability to run.
So how did Palyo, a former “blind-side” tackle, devise an offense that would evolve into one of the most explosive in the Commonwealth?
“The way we were coached at University of Richmond,” Palyo said, “I knew as left tackle what everyone on that offense was doing. I knew what my running back’s steps were. I knew what the rest of the linemen did, and I knew the routes the receivers were running and where they were likely to end up and what my quarterback’s actions were. You have to be able to understand that full concept on any given play to execute your job. That’s part of my approach with these young men I’ve been privileged to be able to coach. We have smart kids.”