Standing tall behind the center, Kareem Coles senses danger lurking, a blitzing cornerback inching closer to the line of scrimmage.
As he barks a protection call, the snap whizzes past the Madison High quarterback.
Defenders closing in on him, Coles scoops up the bouncing football and darts toward the sideline, scurrying for daylight.
His left arm begins its motion. Seconds later, the ball drops into the hands of Lee Walker, who outruns a pair of Kentfield Marin Catholic players for a 50-yard touchdown, igniting a 21-point comeback that propelled the Warhawks to a 38-35 Division III state bowl championship win last year.
The play defines Coles. Entering his junior season as Madison’s starting QB, Coles now understands the broad scope in which he is evaluated.
The acrobatics, elusiveness, intelligence and mobility that Coles displayed under the glare of a championship stage serve as a microcosm of his sophomore year for the Warhawks.
All season, he scrambled around making plays with his legs as he sought to master the spread-option offense as a dual-threat quarterback. But the past is the past.
Coles wants nothing more than to escape the box in which he has been enclosed, contesting the notion that he’s an athlete masquerading as a quarterback.
“My accuracy. My completion percentage dipped below 50. That’s what I want to work on,” said Coles, who completed 99-of-202 passes while compiling 2,814 total yards and 29 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. “That’s unacceptable to me. I can do much better.”
Gifted with track speed and the ability to fling the football with ease, Coles is more than the traditional pocket passer. Defenses must account for the possibility that Coles might burn them for first downs with his legs or keep plays alive long enough for a teammate to wiggle free from coverage.
“So much of how a player is classified in those two categories is based on how they’re utilized in their offensive scheme,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said of quarterbacks.
“For example, if you’re a great athlete, if you can move and run and force a defense to have to play 11-on-11 because of your feet, then your offense is going to showcase those strengths and you’re going to be classified as a dual threat. That doesn’t generalize you as a poor passer. In some cases, with some players, it can.”
Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia, himself a dual threat during his career, deems the generalizations unfair.
“Because you have the ability does not necessarily mean that you will always rely on that ability exclusively. It’s a means of survival sometimes,” Garcia said.
“Smart quarterbacks use that ability to their advantage. They use their smarts in the pocket to make throws, but if it isn’t there, they can use their ability to escape from the pressure closing in on them, extend plays, and even grab first downs. It really places pressure on the defense to cover players as well as covering me.”
Garcia trains and educates players like Coles on proper mechanics and fundamentals of the position at the TEST Football Academy in San Diego.
Coles was introduced to Garcia last November when he enrolled in the program. That’s when his transformation began.
“I wasn’t going to try to change the way he threw the football,” Garcia said. “Mechanically, there were a few things I tweaked and improved, but during the season I wanted to re-emphasize some of the things that I thought would help him continue to do the right things and help him make better decisions as a quarterback.”
Under Garcia’s tutelage, Coles worked on reading coverages, identifying man and zone schemes at the line and blitz disguises.
“Playing the quarterback position requires so much attention to detail and attention to the little things,” Coles said. “Working with (Jeff) really opened my eyes to what is required of me as quarterback and what I need to do to be successful.”
This offseason, the duo collaborated again, this time starting from scratch with the fundamentals. Other topics included pinpoint accuracy, commanding the huddle, and placing balls in tight windows.
“The difference between him today at this point and him last year at this very point is his confidence and maturity,” Madison coach Rick Jackson said.
“It’s like night and day. He experienced some growing pains throughout the season, as expected of a sophomore, but he grew as a player and really matured into the position. So now, coming into fall practice, this is all familiar to him.”