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Connell gets the call for SHS
Junior leading Blue Devil offense
SHS FOOTBALL 092107 247
Statesboro quarterback Luke Connell surveys the defense against Wayne County on Friday, Sept. 21. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Entering the 2007 season, the Statesboro coaching staff had a decision to make — Cone or Connell?
    The Blue Devils rotated juniors Luke Connell and Aaron Cone at quarterback during the 2006 campaign. The two-quarterback system has now been scrapped, and Connell has taken over full time behind center.
    “We just felt like Luke threw the ball a little bit better,” explained offensive coordinator Kenny Tucker. “Plus (Cone’s) such a good athlete he’s got to be on the field for us. We talked about putting him at wideout and even at running back, but with the numbers we lost in the secondary we gave him a shot back there.”
    Cone’s play in the defensive backfield has been more than SHS could have asked for. It’s also left Connell — pronounced ‘Ka-nell’ — as the starting quarterback by himself, a role he relishes.
    “It’s a great role to be in,” said Connell. “It’s a big tradition. Even my dad, who comes from Vidalia, he even says that you don’t realize until you’ve left here what a big program you’ve left. It’s been a great deal so far.”

    The aforementioned ‘dad’ is Tommy Connell, an All-State linebacker on Vidalia’s only state title team in 1969.
    “I think it’s pretty cool that he has a ring and I have a ring,” said Connell, a member of the 2005 State Champion Blue Devils. “He showed me all the different letters he got from colleges and it’s cool to see how that probably passed on to me — hopefully.”
    Connell has garnered interest from Vanderbilt, amongst others.

The Surprise
    As a freshman, Connell saw little chance in becoming quarterback for SHS. He sat on the bench and watched Cone’s older brother David lead the Devils to a title in 2005 as a freshman. A quick look at the depth chart and Connell saw he would have to compete with David’s brother Aaron and Josh Ware.
    “It’s kind of hard to come right in and fill the shoes of David Cone,” said Connell. “And when I was coming up, I didn’t even think I was going to play. I had to compete against Aaron, and I had to compete, at that time, against Josh Ware, who was an outstanding quarterback. But (Ware) decided just to play baseball. So when I realized it was my time in 10th grade, it was an honor to go out there and represent the blue-and-white.”
On the field
    Off the field, Connell is a lengthy 6-foot, slim 190 pounds and the protocol of what a quarterback might look like. On the field, it may look as though Connell does nothing more than hand the ball off to the left, then hand the ball of to the right.
    “He’s in charge of, once we get to the line of scrimmage, looking at the defense and making sure that we have a good play called,” said Tucker. “His responsibility beyond his handing it off is, if we don’t have a good play call, he’s got to make a good decision out there and get us to a good play.”
    Connell has full liberty to change the play at the line, especially if sees something he doesn’t like.
    “Luke will come over and I’ll ask him, ‘What do you see?’,” said Tucker. “And that’s what David Cone did so well. Luke is getting to that point. He understands the offense and he’s able to check us to a better play that gives us a better chance at being successful.”
Cool hand
    Connell manages an offense that rarely throws the ball, an offense based on gap-to-gap runs and clock management. Is Connell comfortable in this run-happy style of football?
    “Something like Wayne County’s (spread offense) — it’s all on your shoulders,” he said. “I like stuff to be on my shoulders and pressure situations and stuff like that, but to have the running game and pass off the running game is a little bit easier for me.”
    When he is called to chuck it up, Connell’s numbers are stellar, passing for 332 yards with a 48 percent completion rate through three games. Usually off of play-action, Connell’s found the end zone twice and a defender’s hands once. The Devils, however, have begun to implement a few more shotgun formations and passing plays to showcase the young QB’s arm.

Ask him later
    Connell’s a two-sport athlete, playing first base for the SHS baseball team. He said it’s hard to choose which one he likes better, mostly because there’s a third choice he prefers above the rest.
    “My mom and dad have asked me (which one I like better) so many times,” he laughed. “They’ve finally realized not to ask me because they are going to get the same answer every time. In football season I love football — in baseball season I love baseball. When there is no season — I just love laying down.”
    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.