The defining moment in David Zeh’s varsity football career didn’t come in the most important game of the year — Avon’s resounding victory over previously unbeaten Midview in Week 7.
If you listen to Zeh’s coach, Mike Elder, it was in the Eagles’ only loss of the regular season that the Avon coaching staff knew its new quarterback was the right guy for the job.
“I think it was the Avon Lake game, oddly enough,” Elder said.
Avon Lake beat Avon 42-28 in the first game of the season.
“I’m sure he isn’t happy with it,” Elder said. “I’m sure he’s angry about the interceptions. He did not have his best game.”
Zeh completed only 37 percent of his passes that night and threw five interceptions. But there were extenuating circumstances. Zeh was playing without 10 teammates, who were suspended for an unspecified rules violation.
“I asked him to do too much,” Elder said of that season opener. “We needed David to be everything. We had six offensive starters not playing. I put a lot on his shoulders having him throw 41 times and run it 17 times. But he never wavered. That was when I knew we had a competitor.”
Zeh didn’t have much of a chance to show his competitive side in 2011. Justin O’Rourke, a Division II first team All-Ohio selection last season, set all kinds of school records in leading the Eagles to a 13-2 record and the state championship game. Plus, Zeh had a stress fracture in his back that forced him to miss seven games.
“I would’ve played last year if I were a senior, even with the stress fracture,” Zeh said. “But we had Justin.”
As luck would have it, Avon’s success in 2011 enabled Zeh to hit the ground running once the quarterback job was his.
“The five extra weeks of practice helped me a lot,” Zeh said. “I got a lot of snaps in practices for the playoff games even though I wasn’t going to play. I knew I had to win the job in preseason this year, but I knew it was my job to lose.”
“Fortunately, the run through the playoffs we had last year gave us time to work with David,” Elder said. “He had missed half the season with his injury. Once he was healthy again he took the backup quarterback role seriously.”
Zeh said having to succeed the most productive quarterback in Avon history didn’t give him a case of the willies.
“More than anything, I was excited and anxious to go,” Zeh said. “I was not nervous. This senior class hasn’t lost a game, other than the Avon Lake one. When we’re all together, we don’t lose. We don’t know how.”
Avon doesn’t throw as often as it did in previous seasons. Elder insists that is no reflection on Zeh.
“If you look at the passing statistics, they’re not too far removed in efficiency from what Justin did, I think,” Elder said. “That would surprise people. I think David would be surprised, too.”
Zeh has been a quarterback since seventh grade.
“In sixth grade I was a wide receiver and running back,” Zeh said. “Ralph (Smith) was quarterback, if you can believe that.”
Smith is now an all-district defensive back who will play football for Ball State University in 2013.
“Avon is now the type of school that needs to refill every year,” Zeh said. “Look at the numbers we have here.”
Zeh pointed to the practice field at Rival Sports LLC indoor facility in Lorain, where on Tuesday evening 93 Avon football players were preparing for Friday’s playoff game against Perrysburg.
“Every Avon team should have mostly seniors in the starting lineup every year,” Zeh said. “It might mean people don’t know us, but we show them we can play.”
That was why the Midview game was the defining moment for the team, if not for Zeh. The Middies had all the buzz going their way before Avon hung a 28-0 loss on them for Midview’s only defeat.
“For most of the season it was Midview, Midview, Midview,” Zeh said. “Midview was going to win the (West Shore) conference. Midview was going to win the state. Now, people are going to have to look at us.”
Midview also reached the Division II, Region 6 playoffs. If each team wins its first two postseason games, the Eagles and Middies will meet for the regional title.
“We hope we can play them in the playoffs,” Zeh said.
If they do, Zeh would likely still draw less attention than Midview’s Cody Callaway, a junior and a solid Division I college quarterback prospect.
Elder says that is of little matter.
“Leadership is not just what you see on the field,” he said. “It’s what you see in practice, in the off-season, off the field. There are three things a quarterback has to do — work on his own game, make the players around him better, be patient in the face of adversity. David has done all three.”
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.