Baptism by fire for Wildcats’ rookie QB

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Stepping up - After just three practices

JOHN MACNEIL

Independent editor

Stephen Zuk had just returned from a British Columbia fishing trip when he landed a big job with the Stettler Wildcats football team.

Zuk, a Grade 10 student who doesn’t turn 15 until mid-October, was pressed into primetime duty last week in the absence of injured starting quarterback Morgan Loshny.

“It was good,” Zuk said after his high school debut — a 31-14 loss to the H.J. Cody Lakers of Sylvan Lake last Thursday in Stettler.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, but it was all right. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it turned out all right.”

Zuk had just three practices under his belt as the Wildcats’ quarterback, though he played the position for two years in bantam and one season in peewee.

“Definitely, losing Morgan is a loss to our team,” coach Norbert Baharally said of Loshny, a Grade 11 student.

“However, my hats off to Stephen Zuk for stepping in with three days’ practice and running our offence. The only thing is we were just limited in the number of plays we could call, just because we haven’t had him playing that position yet all year.”

“I imagine, by (this) week, if Morgan is not ready to go, we’re going to be able to have a few more plays in our repertoire and be ready to go.”

Up next for the Wildcats (1-1) is this Thursday’s game against the West Central Rebels (1-1) in Rocky Mountain House.

Zuk was looking forward to the benefit of four more practices before the Rocky trip.

“We’re working on a lot more passes in practice this week now, polishing them up and stuff,” he said.

“(Last week), I was just getting started with the new plays, so we were kind of just taking it easy and I was mostly just handing the ball off, but we did a few passes.”

Zuk was the starting quarterback with the bantam Stettler Cougars last season.

He used to play bantam AA hockey and this summer he was a member of the Tier 1 competitive Lacombe Dodgers bantam baseball team that reached the provincial final. He pitched and played second base and shortstop with the Dodgers, whose lineup included fellow Wildcats football rookie Jordan McCallum.

On the gridiron, the athletic Zuk tries to compensate for his modest size — five-foot-nine and about 125 pounds.

“Just be quick and smart … to know what to do with the ball and when,” he said. “The more practice, the better.”

Zuk wears No. 7 and he’s a fan of NFL quarterback Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.

Zuk is expected to start for the Wildcats again this Thursday, though Loshny might dress as the backup.

Loshny was a spectator last Thursday, the same day he went to Red Deer for an MRI examination on his ailing hip. He said Monday that he wouldn’t know the results until he meets with a doctor next Monday, but he planned to jog at Tuesday’s practice.

“That kind of sucks, the waiting game, but at least the results are in,” Loshny said. “All this rest seems to make it feel a lot better. I feel like I could start practising lightly, just jogging and stuff, and see how it feels. And if it starts bothering me again, I’ll have to wait, but I think it’s worth a try.”

“I’ll probably dress for (Thursday’s game), just as a safety valve. If Stephen goes down, then I could just tough it out.”

After beating Wetaskiwin 17-2 last week, West Central is ranked fifth provincially among Tier 4 schools.

Stettler, which had been rated 10th among Tier 3 teams, slipped out of this week’s provincial rankings.

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