Life as a quarterback is emotionally a lot simpler these days for Atholton senior Jason Albert, the county's leading passer.
Albert spent his first two high school football seasons in a Centennial uniform. He was successful at Centennial, moving to the varsity for the final four games of his sophomore season.
His first varsity start came against Atholton -- a team his father was coaching. He had rooted for Atholton as he was growing up, so it felt strange playing against the Raiders, he said.
But Albert didn't let his divided emotions stop him. He ran for a 30-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak for Centennial's only score. The Eagles lost, 10-7, however.
"I remember that play," said his father, Jim Albert, Atholton's defensive coordinator. "At first I was saying, 'Go, go.' Then I was saying, 'Get him, get him.' My stomach was going flip-flop. I wanted him to do well. But I also wanted to win the game."
Father and son no longer have to struggle with those mixed emotions. Jason transferred to Atholton for his junior year.
After a season of learning Atholton's run-and-shoot system, Jason and the Raiders now are flourishing together.
Atholton is 5-1 as it heads into a major test against Wilde Lake on Saturday.
And Albert, who is 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, has completed 57 of 107 passes for 706 yards and nine touchdowns.
Because Centennial used mostly play-action passes and bootlegs and was run-oriented, Albert had to change the way he threw the ball at Atholton.
"In our sprint and rollout offense he has to get the ball up quickly and throw more overhand, so we had to change his throwing mechanics," Atholton head coach Don Van Deusen said. "He started the last five games for us last season and has made tremendous improvement."
The quarterback is crucial to the success of the run-and-shoot. He has to read the defense, be able to locate two or three receivers on the front side and sometimes throw to the back side.
"It's a difficult thing to learn, but he's throwing effectively now," Van Deusen said.
Atholton throws 45 percent of the time -- usually short, pinpoint-style passes. Sometimes Albert throws longer ones.
"It just depends on what the defense gives us," Albert said. "If they're not going with a safety, we like to throw deep, and most of the time we go deep we're successful. If they have two safeties, then we usually throw underneath or to the outside."
He completed a 63-yard pass to Tony Stewart against Hammond. And he has thrown a couple of 40-yarders.
Stewart and Matt Treese are his primary targets.
"I know they'll catch it, and they can run with it after they catch it," Albert said.
Hammond, the only team to beat the Raiders, stopped Atholton by playing man-to-man against Atholton's four receivers and using two additional safeties.
"It was hard to find a receiver open because they had six covering four," Albert said.
The Bears also keyed their star linebacker, Jimmy Jackson, on Atholton's top runner, Carlando Love. Any time Love set up to pass-block, Jackson dropped back to pass-defend, giving Hammond seven pass defenders at times.
Albert suffered his worst moment this season against Hammond. His pitchout late in the game resulted in a fumble that ended a drive at Hammond's 12-yard line. The Raiders lost, 13-7.
"I should have kept it instead of pitching out because they had the play well-covered," Albert said. "That's a game we'd like to have back."
But the transfer has worked out well for Albert. Atholton beat Centennial this season and last season.
"I like playing for my father," he said. Albert also plays basketball, and his father is the varsity basketball coach.
Albert praises the starting offensive line of Shane Beaver, Adam Martiny, Melvin Enderes, Kevin Gottsman and Eric Kay for making this year a success so far.
Albert's uncle, Phil, was a former star football player and a longtime head coach at Towson State.
"He calls me and sends me notes, and I went to a lot of his football camps," Albert said. "He's a real positive inspiration to me."