Brotherly battle strengthens bonds

What Kyle McDonald and Jordan Whaley have gone through together since spring football practices began could probably put a strain on most friendships.

After all, their competition for the opportunity to spend their senior year as the Flintridge Prep football team's starting quarterback has played out for nearly half a year on center stage of the Rebels' summer passing league games and now its hell week practices, by all accounts heatedly and too close to call.

"There have been times during this when the competitive side to both of us has kind of gotten in the way a little bit, but at the end of the day, we're still good buddies," McDonald says.

"More or less," Whaley interjects kiddingly.

Mc Donald continues: "I feel like it's taken some getting used to it, but by no means is it something that's going to influence our friendship."

Friends and teammates since freshman year, Whaley and McDonald are known to be close off the field. Many of their teammates likely had to wonder to themselves how a direct competition between the two would affect both of those dynamics when first-year Coach Antonio Harrison opened the quarterback position, formerly held by McDonald, for audition back in the spring.

"I think they're handling it really well because they're like best friends pretty much and I haven't seen any animosity between them," sophomore linebacker and offensive lineman Ryan Leslie says. "I don't think there's been any pressure on the team because of it. They're handling it like mature adults and I applaud them for that. They're both working really hard."

Nor has the coaching staff seen any turmoil crop up as a result of the position battle. In fact, it's been essentially the opposite.

"It's interesting because Kyle and Jordan are best friends," Harrison says. "You kind of expect in any kind of competition like that, especially when Kyle was the starting quarterback last year, there might be a little animosity, but they've done nothing but help each other out and coach each other up."

It's something the two players may have to continue to get used to. Unable to distinguish a clear cut winner between the two by the conclusion of fall practices, Harrison has decided to continue the experiment through the beginning of the regular season, which starts on Saturday at St. Genevieve. Depending on how things go early on, the two may end up indefinitely sharing the role they've fought so hard to claim outright.

"They definitely bring a little different things," Harrison says. "I think Kyle's a little more mobile, I think Jordan is a little bit more accurate with his passing. Kyle likes the big plays, Jordan likes to kind of check and find the open spots. They have different qualities about them, which could also be good if we end up keeping a dual-quarterback system.

"It's an interesting dynamic to see. They're working it out themselves, they're helping each other a lot and I think it makes a big difference because they're not hiding anything from each other or trying to keep secrets on how to be better from one another. They're working together and it's making them both great because they're coming from two different perspectives."

McDonald ran the Rebels' decidedly run-first offense last year during a season in which little went right for the Rebels, who finished out at 3-6 and missed the playoffs. From a quarterback's perspective, Harrison's decision to go to a shotgun Wing-T formation and throw the ball a little more this season was the good news.

Not so welcome at first was the revelation that pretty much everyone on the team would have to compete to earn their position anew, including McDonald.

"It's hard to put your ego aside, but it's a lot easier when you look around and you see 25 kids all in similar positions, all of whom are going through exactly what you're going through," McDonald says. "They don't think twice about it and it makes you not think twice about it. Competition makes people better, it doesn't make people worse. Sure, there have been times when I've been frustrated, but there have been times when I've been frustrated when I've had the starting job locked up."

In the long run, it seems like the competition has only helped McDonald and Whaley get better and Harrison says it's had a positive ripple effect on the whole squad by enhancing practices for the defense and giving the first and second teams reps with a starting quarterback throughout the summer.

"I've worked with both quarterbacks a lot, both in practice and separately," senior receiver David Russell says. "At first I was worried [the quarterback competition] could put a rift in the team, but they've handled it very maturely and both of them are honestly very equal, both of them are really great quarterbacks, so whichever one of them ends up starting, we're going to be good."

Both quarterbacks seem to acknowledge that with complimentary skill sets, there will be situations that are tailor made for one or the other and neither will have a problem with deferring.

"There are certain things that I feel like I can do better and there are plenty of things I feel like he can do better," McDonald says. "Each of us will be put in different situations to best suit our abilities and that's that."

Whaley agrees: "I think that there are things Kyle can do better than me, so if Coach has a situation where he can see Kyle's abilities may be better than mine, then by all means [put him in], because senior year it's just about winning games."

And, that's what makes this arrangement work. As much as both McDonald and Whaley would like their high school careers to end with a turn at quarterback, going out a winner is even more important, whatever that takes, even if its sharing the spotlight.

And just because they may fight for that spotlight, their friendship isn't going to dissolve in the process.

"Kyle's my boy since freshman year," Whaley says. "But also with this team and how [Coach] Harrison is running everything now, it's a competitive system. It's not, 'You have a job,' it's that you have to compete for it and you have to earn it. Neither of us had a starting job coming into hell week. …It's definitely revamped and energized the whole system."

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