Urbana High School sophomore quarterback Donovan Pannell had just thrown an interception against Walkersville on Friday, and as he stood on the sideline, a teammate tried to lift Pannell's confidence.
“This is, what, your third or fourth varsity game?” the teammate said.
Pannell stared straight ahead, stone-faced.
For Pannell — one of Frederick County's three underclassmen starting quarterbacks along with St. John's Catholic Prep freshman Bryce Johnson and Maryland School for the Deaf sophomore Jake Bonheyo — future promise isn't always an elixir for present growing pains.
“He's got so much to think about now,” Urbana coach Ryan Hines said with a chuckle, “that he doesn't have time to think about that.”
Pannell is tasked with leading the offense for a program that has reached the playoffs 12 of the past 14 years. Hines acknowledged Pannell feels pressure living up to those expectations, but the coach is doing his best not to add any.
“You've got to try to find things where he can be successful,” Hines said. “You don't want to put him in situations where he's going to fail and get down on himself.
“When you're in practice, you've got to slow it down for him and go through things step by step. 'What are you looking at? What are you thinking?' Just kind of coach him through every little point.
St. John's Catholic Prep hasn't had the same recent success as Urbana, but leaving the team's pass-oriented offense in the hands of a freshman has been a challenge for coach John Ricca.
“It would be one thing if our offense wasn't so centered around the quarterback,” said Ricca, whose team often has a smaller offensive line that makes running the ball difficult. “Maybe part of that is my fault. I didn't scale it back too much. Now, I'm wondering if I should scale it back and hand off a little more.”
“It's been a learning process for me as well as for Bryce.”
Though Ricca and Hines look forward to a couple years without having to break in new quarterbacks, the coaches aren't preoccupied with grade level right now.
“I really don't look at the class as much as I look at how they control themselves on the field and take care of the ball and things like that,” Hines said.