You adapt to the talent available.
Deep down in his football soul, Lincoln East head coach John Gingery is a “3 yards and a cloud of dust” guy. Many high school coaches across the state are. It’s how they learned to play the game.
But sometimes, your personnel doesn’t fit how you prefer to move the football. So instead of fitting a round peg into a square hole, Gingery adapted.
Enter Noah Walters, one of the best quarterbacks and passers in the state.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Walters is entering his senior season at the helm of the East offense, which, at times, resembled an air raid in 2020. He helped lead the Spartans to a 7-3 record that included a quarterfinal appearance in the Class A playoffs.
As a junior, Walters passed for 2,753 yards and 28 touchdowns against nine interceptions. According to MaxPreps, his 290 pass attempts was the most in Class A and second in the state, behind Central City’s Kale Jensen (397) in C-1. In that quarterfinal against Omaha Westside, a 49-29 loss, Walters threw a season-high 62 passes. He completed 40 of them for 440 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s a ton of fun,” Walters said of operating the pass-happy spread. “I love being in control of the offense and having that weight on my back and knowing it starts with me.”
Walters has also shown he can be a running threat. He was second on the team with 219 rushing yards with a team-best five touchdowns. In a win over North Platte, he rushed for 109 yards and one score. His elusiveness and ability to keep a play alive is what gives defenses headaches.
“I think I’m a playmaker. I think I can turn any bad play into a good play,” Walters said. “I’m pretty confident in what I’m doing out there. When teams really respect the pass, the running lanes go wide open, so I’ll take it and tuck it.”
Walters’ favorite throws are go routes, where the receiver tries to get on top of his defender and sprints straight down the field, and quick flats, or short 3-yard outs against soft coverages.
“Teams will respect the go route, and give you the flat route all the way down the field,” Walters said. “Or they’ll respect the flat, and the go route will be there.”
With Walters at the controls and distributing the ball accurately last season, defenses needed to adjust to the attacking style. That, of course, opens up other things like play action and the run game.
“We forced people to cover the entire field, and that part of it makes it really challenging for defenses when they have to play the entire field,” Gingery said. “It limits their blitz game, too. So with that, we were able to do a number of different things on offense which allowed us to put up some big numbers.”
East racked up 390.8 total yards per game last year, 277.9 of which came through the air. Gingery realizes that he and his staff have a talent at quarterback. That hasn’t always been the case.
“For years, we never had an overabundance of talent,” Gingery said. “We had hard workers, and as a coaching staff we spent a lot of time on the fundamentals to make them sound so we can be competitive.”
Gingery said that when you’re at a talent disadvantage or have a tough schedule, it’s a good idea to shorten the game as much as possible. Running the football is a good way to do that.
But when you have a quarterback like Walters, you let the kid cook.
“With Noah, we were able to do so many other things. It’s boom-boom-boom and we’re down the field,” Gingery said. “He understands our offense. He understands where we’re trying to put the football and where we’re trying to attack. He’s got a great release and he’s quick and accurate. And he’s got the ability to go deep as well — he’s the total package that way.”
The most important thing that Walters showed his head coach last season was consistency.
“There’s lots of things in football that you want to do, but you don’t always get to do those things,” Gingery said. “He’s the kind of kid that allows you to do those things. When you can do what he can do at the quarterback position, it just opens up a whole other realm of football.”
Walters, who’s been the starting quarterback at East since the final three games of his sophomore year, admits that his senior year will look a little different when his team opens with Lincoln Pius X on Aug. 26.
He’ll be without his top three pass catchers from last season in Austin Schneider, Brayan Van Meter and Carter Glenn. Those three receivers combined for 89 catches, 1,545 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2020.
“We have a ton of young talent coming up though,” Walters said.
Senior-to-be Cooper Erikson is back — he was one of Walters’ top targets last season and hauled in 26 catches for 558 yards and seven touchdowns. Other seniors-to-be that will have bigger roles this season include Luke Greisen (17 catches, 223 yards, two touchdowns), Grey Friesen (8, 111, 1) and juniors-to-be AJ Seizys (9, 73) and Kamdyn Roebke.
Walters is anxious to work with his wideouts this summer, either in 7-on-7 settings or just one-on-one routes meant to fine tune anticipation throws. The kind where he wants the ball to be on the facemask of the receiver as he turns his head out of his break.
Also an accomplished baseball player, Walters wants to play football at the next level. He’s been hearing from college football programs like Ohio, South Dakota State, Columbia, Nebraska, Augustana University and Bemidji State.
He was at the Lindenwood camp in St. Charles, Mo., and an Iowa State camp earlier this month, where he was clocked at 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He has a private workout with Nebraska coaches on Friday.
“I just want to keep working hard,” Walters said. “I know sleep and rest is really important, because if you overwork your body you won’t perform your best. And I need to perform at a high level on these stages that could determine my future.
“My eyes are set on football at the next level, but it’s always been a dream of mine to play a college sport. The highest goal for me would be to play football and baseball in college somewhere.”
Adapt to the talent you have. East did it last year, and looks to do it again this fall.