Braden Black was one of three quarterbacks in competition for the starting nod in Olivet College’s season opener.
All three had some experience playing as freshmen a season ago. But one of the other signal callers exited the QB derby with a broken ankle, making it a two-man battle for the right to step under center.
Black found out the Monday before the season opener at Wilmington College that he was tabbed with guiding a Comets team that hadn’t won in 14 consecutive games.
Then the Harper Creek High School graduate went out and broke or tied three Olivet College records in leading the Comets to a 48-27 victory.
“Coverage-wise, we saw something in their coverage and we just kind of attacked it,” Black said. “And from there, everything just lit up.”
Black lit up the Wilmington defense to the tune of 378 total yards, including 349 through the air, to go with six passing touchdowns. The total yards and touchdowns set new program benchmarks, while the passing yardage tied the record at a school that has been playing football since 1884.
“There was blown coverage, you’d have receivers running down the middle of the field wide open. It made my job real easy to just put it on them,” Black said. “When you got your O-line blocking — no sacks the entire game, that was huge — when the O-line does their job and the receivers do their job, it makes my job a whole lot easier… We just rolled with it and the records just came.”
ROAD TO OLIVET
Black quarterbacked the most successful team in Harper Creek history, guiding the squad to a 12-0 start and a state semifinal appearance during his senior season in 2011.
But playing behind a massive offensive line that featured a pair of future Division I players in Kelby Latta (Central Michigan) and Josh Bass (Western Michigan), as well as a running back that would go on to break all of the school’s rushing records in Kasey Carson (now a linebacker at Western Michigan), Black wasn’t asked to throw the ball much for the Beavers.
“In high school, we were a run-first team. With the line we had, we should’ve been, because we could move people around. But I’ve always had a pretty decent arm,” Black said. “Even in high school, I threw the ball probably about 12 times a game and still ended up with over 1,000 yards passing at the end of the year. Just because we were a run-first team, it didn’t affect me that much. The run first opened up the pass second. Playing with guys like Kelby and Josh and Kasey running the rock made it a whole lot easier.”
According to Olivet second-year head coach Dan Pifer, Black had all the intangibles that would make him a perfect fit for his first recruiting class.
“It’s hard to evaluate quarterbacks in high school when they don’t throw it that much. But there was something about him. He had that little moxie about him, so we thought he would be a good fit with us,” Pifer said. “So we recruited him hard. And I think his style fits our offense pretty well, because he’s a mobile guy… And then he has a good arm, and he’s very accurate. He puts himself in that situation because he reads the defense, and knows his keys before the ball is snapped and has a good idea of where he’s going to go with the ball. And that’s what makes him dangerous, because he’s smart.”
Black drew some Division I interest, as Eastern Michigan talked to him about becoming a walk on. But the opportunity to play the same position he’d played since fourth grade at a school so close to home was too much to pass up.
“I looked at every school in our (Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association) conference. Just staying close to home was my big thing,” Black said. “A new coach coming in here, so it’s a fresh start. Really get a chance to play early.”
A BAD BREAK
Black had the opportunity to appear in four games as a true freshman, including his first collegiate start in a Homecoming game against Alma.
With his team trailing 20-7 and a minute to go before halftime, Black rolled right and threw against his body as a defender landed on him, breaking his wrist. The injury sidelined him the remainder of the season.
In a violent sport like football, injuries happen. Black knows full well the danger that can occur on the gridiron — after all, he’s majoring in insurance risk management.
“It was disappointing, but what can you do. My wrist now is 100 percent, and over off-season workouts I just tried to prevent another injury like that. Not only with the lifting, but getting on the field and working with the guys, so starting off the season we’re pretty confident,” Black said.
The injury allowed Black to redshirt his freshman season, and has added 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame since high school. Pifer said Black’s preparation for 2013 started as soon as the signal caller went down with his injury.
“He went through a lot last year. He got the start, and we were playing well… And then he gets hurt. And I think it kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit when everybody saw him because we thought we got our guy, and then he was out the rest of the year,” Pifer said.
“But he stuck around. He went to away games with us and rode the bus. Why I think he’s doing well right now is because he kept on learning… He’s a gym-rat when it comes to football. He likes watching film and learning things, and that’s fun to coach when you have somebody like that. Eventually he’ll become a coach on the field, when he really gets a handle of this offense, and then who knows what the limits will be for him.”
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Black symbolizes the youth movement at Olivet, as Pifer is trying to turn around a program that has gone 2-48 over the past four seasons. Of the 170 players in the Comets’ junior varsity and varsity program, 153 are freshmen or sophomores.
But Black doesn’t believe Olivet’s young talent has to go through a steep learning curve before the program can reverse its fortunes.
“When we’re upperclassmen, we feel like we should have a hold of the conference. If everybody stays and keeps playing and working hard, there is no doubt we’ll be ahead of the conference in a few years,” Black said. “But right now, I think everybody has that chip on their shoulder that we can compete in the conference this year. The conference is wide open, so we feel like we can compete.”
Contact Nick Buckley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley