West Branch senior Cooper KabelaBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Cooper Kabela knew a position switch was coming.
A two-way starter at defensive end and tight end as a junior Kabela spent the preseason preparing for a move to safety for his senior season.
Kabela was prepared for his new role on defense.
The mid-season position swap for Kabela on offense is a whole different story.
Kabela will make his fourth straight start at quarterback on Friday against Clayton Ridge (6-2) after West Branch lost its top two signal callers to season-ending injuries.
“I never would have thought I’d end up playing quarterback,” Kabela said. “Even when (West Branch offensive coordinator) Jarod (Tylee) told me I was playing quarterback I didn’t really believe him at first. It’s been crazy.”
It is easy to understand why Kabela initially questioned the sincerity of Tylee’s announcement that he was moving to quarterback.
Prior to his start against Durant in week six Kabela had never taken a snap in an organized football game in his life.
Not in flag football, not in junior high. He hadn’t even taken a direct snap in a special wildcat formation.
“He’d never taken a snap, he’d never played quarterback in his life, even in junior high or flag football he’d never played quarterback and we said ‘you are going to do it now’,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen explained. “His mom and dad probably had cardiac arrhythmia sitting up the in bleachers thy were so nervous about it but what are you going to do?”
Pedersen, Tylee and the Bears didn’t exactly have a lot of options.
Starting quarterback Beau Cornwell was lost for the year with a broken collarbone in week two.
Senior backup Brandon Rummelhart dislocated his shoulder just hours before the week six homecoming game with Durant.
With no experienced quarterbacks left and no time to prepare it was Kabela, the Bears’ leading receiver through five games, that got the call under center.
“Jarod said he’d seen me throw it around in practice one day and I had a decent arm so he thought that was our best option,” Kabela said. “It’s been tough; it’s been challenging but it’s also been fun.”
The West Branch coaches put Kabela through a crash course on playing quarterback in the hours leading up to the Durant game.
Kabela ran through plays with the offense and threw to receivers on the practice field before hitting on 9-of-12 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns in a 50-22 win over Durant.
“I was pretty nervous but at the same time there was so much going through my head because I just learned the position two hours that I almost didn’t have time to think about actually being nervous,” Kabela said.
Between starts Kabela has tried to perfect his craft at quarterback.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior has worked on his foot work and throwing mechanics but has spent most of the last two weeks learning to read opposing defenses.
“It’s been a lot of new information, every practice you have to stay with it because every day I’m learning something new,” Kabela said. “I kind of know the plays so it’s mostly just reading formations when I get up to the line that’s probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to adjust to.”
In three starts the statistics for Kabela are hardly eye-popping.
He is 21-of-41 passing for 195 yards and three touchdowns and has rushed for another 91 yards.
The most important stat is three, as in 3-0 since Kabela took over at quarterback.
“He has adjusted well,” West Branch senior lineman Cole Tisinger said. “He just goes in and gets the job done and does what he can.”
Kabela has made improvement over the last three weeks and is coming off perhaps his best game against Tipton a week ago.
He completed 7-of-13 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown and ran for 37 in a 28-14 win over the Tigers.
“His arm is getting a lot better and he’s becoming a trustworthy quarterback to not just run with the ball or hand off to me but to pass the ball when we need him to,” West Branch senior Luke Lenoch said. “He’s really growing at the position.”
The biggest test for Kabela comes on Friday as West Branch (6-2) hosts Clayton Ridge in a battle for a playoff spot.
West Branch can secure a ninth consecutive playoff berth with a win over the Eagles.
“I feel good it’s kind of calmed down,” Kabela said. “I was a little nervous, now that I watched film and I learned what I was doing wrong I feel a lot better.”