By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
RAVENNA – Conventional wisdom says football teams should choose, develop and depend on one quarterback, until the starter gets hurt or proves to be ineffective.
The Ravenna Bulldogs are violating that unwritten rule, and so far the experiment is working out great.
Ravenna junior quarterbacks Nick Castenholz and Dakota Hudson are not only sharing time at the position – last week they started rotating with each offensive play.
One quarterback went in with a new play to run, based on instructions from Ravenna Coach David Smith. The other reported to the sideline to get the next play, then rotated back in.
That arrangement may sound chaotic to some, but it worked very well in Ravenna’s 42-14 victory Saturday over Carson City-Crystal in the first round of the Division 6 state football playoffs.
Smith says he will keep the rotation intact when the Bulldogs play Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian Friday night in a district final matchup at Comstock Park High School. The winner will advance to the state quarterfinals.
“I’ve never done it before or seen it but it works well,” Smith told Local Sports Journal. “They both bring different things to the position, so instead of benching one of them. I use them both.
“Dakota is more about using his legs, but he’s also a capable passer. Nick is more of a traditional play action passer, but he can also be a capable runner, which he showed on Saturday.
“Right now I like my two-headed monster at quarterback.”
The dual quarterback system is a new strategy for the Bulldogs, who are 8-2 on the season and finished second behind Oakridge in the tough West Michigan Conference this fall.
Castenholz was the starting quarterback for most of the season, while the speedy Hudson played halfback, receiver and kick returner.
The Bulldogs were 4-0 with that arrangement.
But Castenholz suffered a concussion in Week 5 against Oakridge and sat out until the final game of the regular season.
He had to undergo tests and go through physical therapy before he was finally cleared to play.
“(An Oakridge player) hit me helmet-to-helmet, and I blacked out a little bit on the sidelines,” Castenholz said. “I looked at the tape a bunch of times after that, and I can’t remember any of it.
“It was tough watching (his teammates), especially going into the Whitehall game, which was for second place in the league. It was hard just sitting there.”
Luckily Hudson was on the roster. He was a starting varsity quarterback as a freshman at Wyoming High School, so he knew a few things about playing the position.
He filled in admirably for Castenholz, leading the Bulldogs to crucial conference victories over North Muskegon, Shelby and Whitehall.
Having Hudson under center gives the Bulldogs one less speedy weapon at running back. But that’s not a problem because Ravenna has numerous ball carriers who can do a lot of damage, including David Thompson (who rushed for 199 yards in the playoff game) and Gabe Zimmer (who rushed for 89 yards).
“He did a great job,” Castenholz said about Hudson’s work at quarterback while he was healing.
“I wasn’t prepared for it, but I like playing quarterback and tailback,” Hudson said.
Hudson added that the current rotation system works well for the team, because it’s “good for rest, which is important between plays.”
Castenholz agreed, saying “I like it, I think it works well.”
Both quarterbacks have been significant contributors to the Ravenna offense this season.
Hudson has completed 16 of 36 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 497 yards and nine touchdowns, and has run back a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
Castenholz has completed 18 of 35 passes for 377 yards and six touchdowns.
Against Carson City-Crystal, Castenholz completed 3 of 5 passes for 66 yards while Hudson was 2-for-2 through the air for 42 yards, and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Alex Jawor.
Besides keeping opposing defenses off balance, Smith said the quarterback shuffle helps with communication. Instead of sending other players into the game with a play, he can give it directly to the quarterback, who makes the call in the huddle.
In the old system, there was sometimes miscommunication or confusion about the right play to run, Smith said.
“This way I can give them the play directly,” Smith said. “Not many coaches get to talk to the quarterback very much during games.”