NORWALK, Ia. – Norwalk coach Paul Patterson remembers the unsettling feeling last August in the hours leading up to the season’s first kickoff.
It was one thing to hand the varsity controls over to a freshman quarterback. It was another to hand them to a freshman who looked like he might not keep his pregame meal down.
“You want to be nervous as a coach, walk into nutrition table and see your starting quarterback (with a paper-white face),” Patterson said. “He was so nervous. We were trying to figure out what are we going to do with this kid.”
Brady Brandsfield got knocked around early in the game that night against Newton. He misfired on a few first-quarter passes. By the end of the night, his jitters — and Norwalk’s concerns about its freshman quarterback — were gone.
Brandsfield tossed a 38-yard touchdown on fourth-and-13 that pushed the game into overtime and connected on another touchdown in overtime to give the Warriors a 19-13 victory. It was one of those we’ve-got-something-really-good-here moments for Patterson.
At the end of the season, only 23 quarterbacks in the state — all juniors and seniors — threw for more yards than Brandsfield. He finished fifth on the Class 3-A passing chart after connecting on 56.1 percent of his attempts for 1,822 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Now he’s the central figure in an offensive overhaul at Norwalk. The Warriors have traded in their I-formation set for the shotgun spread. They’ve gone away from power running and tight ends in favor of speedy receivers and extra-receiver looks.
“We found a lot of guys who fit those spots well,” said senior receiver Luke Greenslade, who caught 41 passes for 649 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
The Warriors hope the system change leads to a transformation on the scoreboard. Norwalk finished 5-5 last season, but four of those losses were single-digit defeats.
“Going into the game, you have to have the mentality you’re going to win,” said Brandsfield, who also led the Warriors in rushing last season with 416 yards. “I think there were some games where we didn’t take as seriously as others, but that can easily be changed.”
Though questions remain about Norwalk’s ability to fill in up front on both sides of the football and with four of the top five tacklers off last year’s team graduated — Brock Schwechel is back after collecting a team-high 124 stops last year — Patterson said this is a bunch that’s eager to learn and fun to be around. His sophomore quarterback embodies the willing-to-study attitude.
“He’s the type of kid who you can tell him that he did not do something well and it’s not going to happen again,” Patterson said. “Out of all the things we’ve had with him, that’s probably the No. 1 benefit and positive thing for him. He does not make the same mistake twice.”
There are noticeable differences in Brandsfield this year. Greenslade said his passes are coming in harder than they were last season. Patterson said the sophomore is more comfortable speaking his mind.
“He’s bigger, he’s got a stronger arm, he’s a lot more confident and he knows what’s happening,” Patterson said. “He surprised the heck out of us (last year). We knew he was going to be good, we just didn’t think he was going to be that good for us at that time.”
Aug. 29 at Creston, 7:30
Sept. 5 vs. Winterset, 7:30
Sept. 12 at Carlisle, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Pella, 7:30
Sept. 26 vs. Saydel, 7:30
Oct. 3 at Chariton, 7:30
Oct. 10 vs. Oskaloosa, 7:30
Oct. 17 at ADM, 7:30
Oct. 24 vs. Knoxville, 7:30