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Football: New QBs are no strangers to the gridiron
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West Forsyth quarterback Zach Burns takes a snap during the Wolverines' scrimmage against Creekview. - photo by Michael Chung

Zach Burns has been waiting for this opportunity for years. 

He played quarterback growing up, and heading into his sophomore year at West Forsyth, Burns was battling Hank Flood for the starting spot on varsity. That opportunity was pushed back, though, when Kiernen Hamilton moved in from New York and took the spot for the next two seasons. Heading into this fall, Burns is finally the Wolverines' guy.

But he hadn't been relegated to clipboard duty in the meantime. Like a number of the county's new signal-callers this year, Burns had been an important part of the team's offense -- it was just somewhere other than under center. 

"That's kind of the way that people are trying to find ways to do, so you're not going in with a brand-new (player) where the first snap he takes on a Friday night is at quarterback," West Forsyth head coach Shawn Cahill said. "You're trying to get the backup in at other spots, so when the lights go on, he doesn't freak out."

Burns, a senior, was one of West's leading receivers the past two years, catching the most passes on the team in 2015 and the second-most in 2016. Lambert senior quarterback Bobby Gabriel caught 29 passes and two touchdowns from Richie Kenney last season. Neither of South's Morris brothers were full-time contributors, but Cal, the War Eagles' presumptive starter, has seen time at receiver, and Drew, his backup, got carries last year before he had to take on the injury-wracked QB spot.

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Lambert's Bobby Gabriel catches a pass against Forsyth Central in the Longhorns' game on Nov. 4. - photo by Micah Green
Gabriel said he didn't have a preference between quarterback and receiver. That doesn't apply to Burns. 

"I like being quarterback better," Burns said. "(At) receiver, you get the ball maybe once every 10, maybe 15 snaps on a good night. Quarterback I like because you get to have the ball in your hands every play and make decisions, and I think that suits me better."

Burns made sure that, even with Hamilton as the main signal caller, he was getting snaps as the backup. His skillset is different than the pocket-passer model Hamilton embodied, and the Wolverines' usage of Burns reflects that, with more read-option plays and more roll outs. Gabriel gives Lambert a similar contrast to Kenney, and Gabriel saw time at quarterback as a more mobile option when he was a sophomore.

Both Gabriel and Burns said that their experience at receiver informs how they play quarterback. Burns said he benefits for his feel for different routes and the connection he established with the Wolverines' receivers when they were in the same unit. Gabriel said that he relates to his receivers better and has benefited from having multiple perspectives. 

"Being a quarterback, you understand where the receiver's supposed to be," Lambert head coach Louis Daniel said. "...And having the chance to go back and play receiver the next year, from a quarterback's perspective, really makes you understand coverages, makes you understand the routes." 

In Cahill's mind, it doesn't matter too much what position a future quarterback plays, as long as he's on the field. The first-year head coach doesn't necessarily see a former wide receiver in Burns -- he sees an experienced football mind, who can read the intentions of both defensive ends on a run or safeties on a pass. Cahill sees the charisma and "arrogant moxie" that he likes in a quarterback in Burns, 

"I think he's probably a better quarterback than he was wide receiver," Cahill said.

Burns is also, like Gabriel, a baseball player, one committed to play in college at Young Harris. That also influences his quarterbacking, sometimes for the worse -- throwing a football from the same arm slot as a baseball tends to produce throws on the wobbly side. 

Cahill doesn't have the time or desire to take a deep dive into mechanics, though. 

"As long as they get it there," he said. "(In) high school, that's an A-plus right there."