It was the first day in pads and Rockford was running its “Christmas” drill.
The drill features a defensive lineman and linebacker going against an offensive lineman, a blocking back and a ball carrier.
Quarterback Chase Hankins was carrying the ball and led too much with his left shoulder. When he was hit, he knew something was wrong.
Hankins looked up at wide receiver Austin McKellar and said: “I’m sorry.”
This was supposed to be the year McKellar finally got to be a wide receiver and cornerback for the entire season.
McKellar was forced to play quarterback as a freshman and sophomore when Hankins was injured. Last season, he started the first three varsity games at QB when Kyle Short was injured and saw spot duty there the remainder of the season.
So it will be McKellar under center at 6 p.m. Friday when Rockford opens the season against Utica Eisenhower at Utica High.
“Things are going really good, actually, our offensive line is doing really well,” he said. “I’m a lot — a lot — more comfortable than I was last year. I’m more confident, especially. My throws are really well so far. My footwork is a lot better than it was last year, a lot more crisp.”
There will be times McKellar will be called on to pass and the downside to him being at quarterback is that the Rams will be without their best receiver — him.
The upside to that is that when he drops back he will be looking for Zach Sargent.
“Our second receiver is actually my best friend and he’s doing really good,” McKellar said. “He actually does have better hands than I do. We’ve been best friends since middle school. We’ve always kind of thought of it as maybe it will happen one day that I’m the quarterback and he’s the receiver.”
McKellar played well in the preseason scrimmage and is turning the feedback he receives from coach Ralph Munger into daily improvement.
“He’s been tough on me, but he’s very accepting of me at quarterback, he has a lot of confidence in me,” McKellar said. “We’re not changing what we’re doing at all.”
Munger has no qualms about McKellar’s ability to run the offense.
“He’s a wonderful young man,” Munger said. “He’s very comfortable in that position. He’s athletic. He throws the ball fairly well. He’s got good speed and loose hips. He’s just very athletic.”
And McKellar is a Rockford kid through-and-through. He knows what it means to wear a Rockford uniform.
“Honestly, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “Going out on Friday night, even when I was a little kid, everybody would get to the games two or three hours early. It’s like a college atmosphere. It’s crazy.”
Munger is the guy who built Rockford into the program it is today. He has won 194 games in his 21 seasons at Rockford.
“He is like a father figure to me and the whole team,” McKellar said. “He is our biggest role model. He is one of the greatest guys. He always makes sure after he gets somebody he’ll tell them he loves them and stuff like that. He tells us he’s not our friend, but he’ll always be here for us.”
Munger has a gruff exterior, but after being around him for a while the players get an accurate read on him.
“He comes off that way, but he’s not,” McKellar said.