Cody Schuster never lost the trademark swagger in his step. Not after throwing an interception on his first pass attempt. Not after a fumble recovery was converted into a touchdown. And certainly not after Elyria Catholic was staring down the barrel of a 21-0 deficit to Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
Instead, the Panthers’ senior starting quarterback calmly walked back out onto the field, took control of the huddle and initiated Elyria Catholic’s first scoring drive of the night — the first of many, as EC went on a 35-0 run in a dramatic comeback win last Saturday night in Euclid.
“He was the most poised guy out there,” Panthers’ senior tailback Jayson Graham said. “He was yelling at everyone to get their heads together. He wasn’t screaming. He was calm and just kind of pulled us in.”
On a night in which EC was dealt its first heavy dose of adversity, Schuster showed the ability to not just advance the chains, put up points and evade defenders, but also handle pressure with aplomb.
“The biggest thing I try to do is not get too emotional one way or the other,” Schuster said. “When things aren’t going right, you don’t want to hang your head. You have to keep your composure and just focus on the next play.”
Schuster has been at the heart of Elyria Catholic’s 7-0 start, the school’s best since 1997, when the Panthers finished 8-2. He is the ringleader of an explosive offense which has averaged 37.2 points and 407.4 yards per game. He has shredded defenses with his arm and demoralized them with his feet, turning average plays into spectacular ones and spectacular ones into sensational performances.
The name Schuster is thrown around frequently on the Panthers. Cody is one of three siblings that hold starting jobs on offense. His fraternal twin, Jacob, is a versatile weapon as a tailback and wide receiver and serves as one of the team’s most tenacious linebackers. And his younger brother, Jared, is a sophomore tackle who has anchored the left side of a young offensive line. The youngest Schuster, Ashley, appears to be making a name for herself as a rising star in the Panthers’ volleyball program.
“A lot of us try to imagine what their dinner conversations are like,” Elyria Catholic coach Ben Malbasa said. “I can only imagine. They’re all pretty competitive.”
A compulsive drive to win is a staple among the Schusters — especially in Cody and Jacob.
“Jacob is probably the biggest competitor on the team,” said Panthers senior wide receiver Ritchie Baker. “In the summer, we all get together to play pickup games of basketball. But whenever we play Jacob’s team, it gets a little out of hand. He goes all-out. You can’t take it easy in those games. And Cody’s not far behind.”
“I’d have to say that I’m a little more calm,” Cody said. “If I get mad, I’ll say something. But (Jacob) is the first one to approach you about everything. You can tell he’s just more competitive. He gets after it.”
So, too, does Cody, but he expresses himself differently. Last week against Villa Angela-St. Joseph, the Panthers went through a brief blackout, where they abandoned their trademark spread offense, were out-muscled on the line and stunned by the Vikings’ level of athleticism.
But when faced with a 21-0 deficit, Schuster began the rally with what has always come so naturally – taking the football and making something happen. Schuster ripped off a 26-yard quarterback scramble that resulted in the Panthers’ first score of the night and opened the offensive floodgates.
“When the game was actually going on, for some reason, we weren’t really that worried about it,” Schuster said. “I guess that’s because of how our year has been going. We’ve just got this confidence. In that first quarter-and-a-half, (VASJ) could have really put the game away. But they didn’t. And we kept fighting and once we got ourselves straightened out, it all came together. I think that just shows the kind of firepower we have.”
Schuster had arguably the finest game of his two-year starting career last Friday. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing 23 times for 95 yards.
Last season, Schuster ran an offense built largely from the inside out. The Panthers had an exceptional veteran offensive line, requiring Schuster to throw the ball at a bare minimum. With the hiring of Malbasa, Schuster’s responsibilities have shifted to working the ball around the field to the Panthers’ array of speed threats, such as Baker, Graham, Nick Betka and Jacob Schuster, the four of whom have combined for 24 touchdowns either through the air or on the ground.
Instead of just winging the ball downfield, Schuster has improved the precision on his throws, displaying a natural sense of when to throw the ball to meet the receiver in his route.
Malbasa says the most notable change in Schuster can be seen after a botched play.
“He doesn’t always get on someone for not making a block or missing a catch,” Malbasa said. “Instead, he pats them on the back and tells them they’ll get it next time. His positive leadership has become outstanding. He’s learning that oftentimes giving someone a little pick up is more powerful than getting on their case.”
Schuster’s done this by being himself and finding an ease on the field.
“I just try to be me,” Schuster said. “I wouldn’t call it leading. It’s more just trying to show how it’s done by example and being positive. If you help people along and show them the kind of hard work you do, people will follow you.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or email@example.com.