Over the past two seasons, Avon quarterback Justin O’Rourke was given ample playing time by coach Mike Elder. However, it was part of a platoon under center, as O’Rourke split time with Cody Schroeder.
In fact, as the 2010 season wound down and Avon made a run at a 10-0 season and Division II playoff berth, O’Rourke’s snaps dwindled and Schroeder’s went up.
This season, with Schroeder graduated, the job is finally 100 percent O’Rourke’s.
“It’s been a lot different this summer, especially since I’ve been splitting time with Cody for so long,” O’Rourke said. “But so far it’s been good.
“The experience from the last two seasons definitely helps a lot. It slows down the game, especially from how it was my sophomore year. The seniors that year showed me a lot about football, so I think I’ll definitely be ready this year.”
O’Rourke, a senior, will be running a highly efficient offense for a team that boasts 24 returning lettermen and a large senior class.
“He and Cody Schroeder split time 50-50 in 2009,” Elder said. “Going into Justin’s junior season, they battled. I thought Cody separated himself and won the job. Last season, Justin still played. They split it at a 3/1 ratio. We did that all season long.
“In our view, Justin O’Rourke is our returning starter. He didn’t play as much as he wanted to, but he was playing behind a guy who got a football scholarship to California (Pa.) University, one of the top Division II programs in the country. We have a ton of confidence in what Justin can do in moving forward with him.”
Quarterback coach Lee Powell said O’Rourke’s experience from the past two seasons should only make him better and more prepared for this season.
“He’s been seeing varsity speed, and that’s a big thing,” he said. “The speed is always surprising, no matter what you do in practice. He experienced the pregame jitters before, and that experience is going to be huge.
“Now, it’s just a matter of going back to footwork, timing and practice. The game’s not too big for him. He just gets a chance to play and have fun at it and not worry about the stakes being too big. That’s his mentality.”
Fellow senior and All-Ohio wide receiver Matt Eckhardt is confident the offense won’t miss a beat.
“We’ll be the same offensive team as last year,” he said. “Justin can air it out, but we also can run the ball. Justin will fill Cody’s spot, no problem. He’s been there, and should fit right in full time.”
O’Rourke was elected one of the team’s captains, a role he’s relishing.
“Definitely as a senior and a captain, I’ve just got to do what I’m supposed to be doing and get the guys going when they’re down,” he said. “I’m more of a leader by example, as anybody on my team will tell you.
“As a team overall, not just me as quarterback, we all have experience. We’re all veterans. Our grade has definitely stepped it up, and hopefully the grades below us follow suit and do it, too.”
O’Rourke gave a lot of credit to Elder and Powell.
“They’ve been great coaches,” he said. “They have great chemistry with their players. It should be fun with them calling plays for me, that’s for sure.
“We can put a lot more into the offense than before, because I’ve been here learning it, practicing it and playing in it for four years. I can play a lot of the other plays that we haven’t run in the past, and hopefully that will help us put together a lot of scoring drives.”
O’Rourke comes from a quarterbacking family. Older brothers Jason and Ryan were standouts at Avon and helped Justin work on his craft.
“They’ve encouraged me to get into football a lot more,” he said. “They helped me out so much. They’ve had me doing quarterback drills since sixth grade. I have the advantage because of that, but that definitely got me into the game a lot more and into becoming a quarterback.”
Powell coached all three brothers, and said they all have unique qualities.
“Each one of them has something different about them,” he said. “Sometimes it’s unfair to compare, especially since Ryan was so successful for four years.
“Jason was such a good athlete, too. To be honest with you, I don’t even think of Ryan or Jason when I see Justin. He has his own style and his own skill set that sets him apart.”
O’Rourke is an admitted “football junkie,” who watches games when he’s not playing and enjoys trying to beat his brothers at EA Sports video games NCAA Football and Madden.
He’d love to play in college, but hasn’t started a serious search yet.
“I’m kind of not worried about it yet,” he said. “I’ve got to finish this season out before I worry about the next one.
“It’s a whole ‘nother year. We’ve just got to take it game by game and worry about each week as it comes. We can’t go back to last year and try to feed off of that.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.