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Once teammates, McCarthy and Shanley both enjoying playoff spotlight
South Forsyth quarterback Davis Shanley (left) and Pinecrest Academy quarterback Ryan McCarthy were middle school teammates at Pinecrest, but each has found success on the high school level at their respective schools. - photo by File photos

Todd Winter came to Pinecrest Academy in 2012 with a lot of decisions to make. One of those would be implementing a triple-option offense to replace the contemporary shotgun offense the Paladins were running at the time. The other decision was choosing a quarterback to facilitate the new system.

Winter knew his job would be a multi-year process, and at a private school like Pinecrest, where the youth teams and high schools teams exist on the same campus, Winter also knew he’d have influence in choosing the quarterback of the future.

So he peeked into the eighth grade class to look for a quarterback. He had a few options. One was Ryan McCarthy, the other was Davis Shanley.

Shanley played quarterback and receiver through middle school, while McCarthy was a running back, but because of the nature of the option scheme there was a demand for their skill sets. Even though the middle school coach was McCarthy’s father, it was Winter’s input that thrust McCarthy into the lead role of the offense.

“It was a tough decision and one we just had to make,” Winter said. “Ryan was the quarterback and Davis was a wide receiver for us. (Davis) was a really good blocker on the edge.”

But Shanley had other ideas—he wanted to be the varsity signal caller, so he and his family made the decision to transfer from a team of a few dozen players to South Forsyth, where he would eventually take complete control of the offense.

“The rest is history,” Winter said.

Shanley’s decision couldn’t have better paid off. This year South has gone 10-1, losing only to West Forsyth by four points, and will face Tucker today with a ticket to the state quarterfinals on the line. South only had one other double-digit win season, back in 2001—the only other time it advanced to the quarterfinals.

According to South head coach Jeff Arnette, nothing that has happened so far in the War Eagles’ magical campaign could have happened without Shanley controlling the rock.

“When you have a quarterback that can do it all that changes your entire team,” Arnette said. “You see what he does running, throwing and his decision making, it’s unbelievable. The best thing about him is I get him another year.”

Shanley’s firm handshake and “yes sir, no sir” persona can confirm to any stranger of his leadership, as well as his ability to throw darts on the football field.

Ironically, what has made Shanley so much better is, in fact, his feet—a key component to the game of a triple-option quarterback. It’s something he says didn’t come naturally.

“I was very slow growing up,” Shanley said.

It’s not necessarily speed, but escape-ability, combining movement with quick decisions, that makes Shanley’s in-pocket and out-of-pocket antics so poetic to watch. Everything you see from the junior signal caller is a product of maturation and development.

“To me, the growth he has had from his freshman year to his junior year, I’ve never seen a kid improve in a year and a half as much as (Shanley) has,” Arnette said. “I don’t think there’s a ceiling on him.”

There’s no regret, however, at Pinecrest. That’s because the Paladins are also having a historic season, owning a 9-1 record, including a 28-21 upset of defending state champion Mount Paran Christian to claim the Region 6-A title.

McCarthy has been the center of Pinecrest’s team. Winter grades his triple-option quarterback on correct reads, and says McCarthy boasts an 80-percent rate—good enough to produce at the same level as other great option quarterbacks, such as Navy’s current Heisman darkhorse Keenan Reynolds.

McCarthy has carried 148 times for 1,222 yards and scored 21 touchdowns, while only losing one fumble and throwing one interception on the season. His production has earned serious recruiting attention from The Citadel, as well as the Naval Academy and West Point. As a defender, he’s made 67 tackles, a sack, and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns. Boston College and Northern Illinois have scouted him as a potential defensive back.

None of this is a surprise to Winter.

“When I took over the program, it looked like a Naval Academy or an Army, if you know what I’m saying,” Winter said. “We have talented kids, not ultra-talented kids, but they’re highly intelligent and coachable. I just thought the system fit.”

Shanley felt the same about South.

“Ryan got the job in the triple option and I just saw an opportunity here,” Shanley said. “I wanted to continue to be a quarterback. I wasn’t great right away, but I’ve continued to build up to this. We all have. Everything that we’ve accomplished so far this year is from goals we’ve set in the past, and we hope next year that bar is raised.”

Shanley’s progression has suggested Division I recruiting attention of his own, but he preferred not to speak specifically about his recruiting process to this point.

The two quarterbacks ran into each other at a camp over the summer. Both did well, McCarthy said. He’s glad that the situation has worked out, ideally, for both programs.

“He’s doing a really good job over at South,” McCarthy said.

“I’m excited and happy for what (Shanley) has accomplished at South this year,” Winter said. “He’s made his mark for sure.”