Practice has ended for the South Salem High School football team and the tall blond kid is still working.
While most other players have meandered off to the locker room, junior quarterback Sam Tweedt gathers up equipment, puts it in a bag and is the last varsity player to exit Bennett Field.
Tweedt’s work keeps improving in his first year as a varsity starter and he’s shedding the tag of being known as a strong-armed baseball pitcher and becoming known as a varsity quarterback for the Saxons (3-3), who host McKay (3-3) at 7 p.m. tonight.
“He’s doing a great job, and quarterbacks when they’re first in that starting role the learning curve’s pretty steep,” said South Salem offensive coordinator Chris Short. “He’s shown some incremental growth and improvement every single week.
“Against Sprague (last week) he did some stuff, some intricacies, that he doesn’t do that in week one. He didn’t have that comfort level and that experience. His growth has been tremendous.”
Tweedt was a second-team all-Central Valley Conference selection at pitcher as a sophomore last spring – his nickname in baseball is Twitter (his twitter handle is @stweedt24).
He pitched well in a lot of big games for the Saxons and went 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in league.
Anointed the team’s starting quarterback to start this season, Tweedt has improved as the season has gone one.
Six games into his junior year Tweedt is 54 of 113 (47.8 percent) passing for 925 yards, second in the Central Valley Conference behind Sprague’s Jon Schaub, for eight touchdowns with six interceptions.
“I think the first couple games were a little bit tough, but I’m settling down, trusting my guys more, completing more passes, being more assertive, and trying to lead my guys,” said Tweedt, who was 5 for 9 passing for 59 yards as a sophomore backup.
South Salem has been able to lean on senior running back Jaylynn Bailey (750 yards and eight touchdowns on 87 carries) and junior running back Joshua Benton (475 yards and six touchdowns rushing on 58 carries) to lead the offense this fall.
The Saxons are using fullbacks more regularly this season in Short’s first as offensive coordinator as opposed to the spread looks than the team ran in recent years.
Tweedt has learned to move around in the pocket more as the season has progressed – he was sacked once in last week’s 38-7 loss to Sprague.
“Our scheme is pretty simple,” said Tweedt, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds. “You got to run the ball to throw the ball, and I think at times we showed that’s very effective.
“Other times when one little piece breaks down then we all kind of go down with it, but at the same time we’re a good team and we trust our coaches, and they’ve led us here right now.”
Of the Central Valley Conference’s receiving leaders, Kevin Martz (269 yards, one touchdown) is South Salem’s only representative in the top 10.
Eleven South Salem players have caught a pass from Tweedt this season.
“He can put the ball where he wants to put it,” senior receiver Jacob Whitfield said. “His arm, he’s got a very strong arm and he sees things very well.”
Tweedt is the only player who has attempted a pass for the Saxons this fall. Bailey lines up as a wildcat quarterback in a short-yardage set with Benton at running back, though he hasn’t attempted a pass out of it this season.
Bailey was the starting quarterback to begin his sophomore year and has played quarterback sporadically throughout his high school career.
“It’s very tough and the speed of the game is a lot faster than what it was,” Bailey said. “And so he’s doing well with it and he’s embracing it and he’s doing a lot better.”
After completing 35 percent of his passes (4 for 11) in a 52-43 win against Clackamas, he came back in the next game and completed 61 percent of his passes (14 of 23) in a 43-40 win against West Linn.
Against Sprague last week he completed 43 percent (9 of 21).
South Salem coach Scott DuFault said that the receivers dropped about 10 passes from Tweedt in the 38-7 loss to Sprague.
“He’s much more controlled,” DuFault said. “Listen to him talk to Chris when he comes off the field, he’s talking about coverage and talking about routes, and those are signs that the game’s slowing down, and he’s starting to understand things a little bit.
“I’m really pleased with his progression. We just need to get more consistent up front on both sides of the football.”
While many teams have a younger player or coach run the scout team offense in practice, Tweedt plays the part most plays.
He stands back in the pocket and makes throw after throw, then goes back to the notebook to see what play he will run next.
From where he was at the beginning of the fall to now one can see Tweedt’s confidence and comfort with being the starting quarterback increase.
“I think it’s just what the position brings, all the criteria, you have to be a leader, you have to step up, but we have other guys who can lead, too, and that takes some of the pressure off,” Tweedt said.
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler