When first-year Atholton football coach Kevin Kelly decided to switch from the run-and-shoot to an option offense, he knew that a tough, intelligent quarterback was needed to make it work.
He also knew he had senior Jason Sandner to fill that role. Sandner has helped lead the Raiders to a surprising 5-2 season.
Last Saturday, Sandner's bootleg on fourth-and-goal from the Wilde Lake 4 with a minute left tied the game at 13. Sean Williams' point-after won it, 14-13.
The victory ended a 16-game losing streak against Wilde Lake.
"That was the most exciting play I've ever made in sports," Sandner said. "We noticed that their defensive ends were cracking down hard and not containing much. I got a good block from Keith Jefferson on the cornerback and outran Dain Lewis, who tried to catch me from behind."
Kelly admits that Sandner's size (5-foot-8 and 144 pounds) was a concern when he picked him as the starting quarterback.
"But he hasn't missed a beat," Kelly said. "He's a gamer."
Sandner's toughness has impressed more than one county coach.
Against Oakland Mills, a team he thought hit the hardest and played the toughest defense, Sandner gained 37 yards rushing and completed seven of 15 passes for 84 yards and one touchdown.
"He ran the option really well," Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet said. "And he gets hit hard but doesn't shy away."
Sandner said: "I'm not worried about my size. You have to play with what you have."
Sandner is not an effective drop-back passer because he has trouble seeing over the line. He prefers to throw off roll-outs. Last week the Raiders showed some shotgun formations to give him more time and more room to see.
He has completed 25 of 50 passes for 462 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception. His longest pass was a 54-yarder against Howard.
"We don't take many risks throwing the ball," he said about his lack of interceptions.
Sandner also has rushed for six touchdowns and leads the team in scoring with 32 points.
Kelly has tried to keep Sandner fresh by playing him one way most of the season, but Sandner is one of the team's best defensive backs.
Last season he started at defensive back. And against Wilde Lake last week he knocked down a crucial pass in the last minute.
"He'll probably play more on defense the last three games," Kelly said.
Sandner has a 3.75 grade-point average and scored 1,110 on the Scholastic Assessment Test. His intelligence helps him to make split-second decisions on whether to pitch out, hand off or keep the football.
"When we call the option, we don't know who is getting the ball," Kelly said. "We leave some defensive players unblocked, and if they tackle the dive back he keeps the ball. The quarterback is the key. And Jason makes good decisions."
Sandner has 4.8 speed and scrambles well. His best runs have come off the counter-option.
"He has played as well as I could expect," Kelly said.
Sandner also plays baseball for Kelly and batted .333 last season.
The guy he beat out for the starting quarterback spot, Williams, beat him out for the starting shortstop position last spring. Sandner played shortstop when Williams pitched.
"They were tough situations for both kids to accept and they have both handled it well," Kelly said.