Junior Mike DeBaugh was supposed to be a basketball player. As a 6-foot-4, 190-pound swingman, he had enough size, touch and ball-handling skills to be recruited by John Carroll's top-notch hoops program coming out of middle school.
But DeBuagh didn't last one semester at JC. For one, he grew tired of the hardwood. Two, he still had an affinity for the gridiron.
"I played tight end growing up and I loved the game," DeBaugh said. "I wasn't ready to give that up."
Unable to focus on football at John Carroll, DeBaugh thought long and hard about transferring. After talking it over with his father, DeBaugh left the private school ranks in favor of his local public school, Perry Hall High.
It turned out to be a good decision. DeBaugh, a once-promising basketball prospect, is now a potential Division I-AA quarterback.
Of course, he didn't become a gunslinger overnight. But the size and skills were all there, and it didn't take long for a shrew football coach in search of talent to find him.
Enter Gators football coach Keith Robinson, who doubles as Perry Hall's physical education teacher. During the spring semester three years ago DeBaugh walked into his gym class, immediately raising Robinson's recruiting radar. Robinson didn't say anything at the time, but during one sunny, warm afternoon the coach sent his class outside for a flag-football game.
Just for fun, DeBaugh spurned his customary tight end position and decided to take a few snaps under center. While his friends ran fly routes, DeBaugh hoisted a few archers deep downfield -- 50-, 60-yard spirals thrown with relative ease.
Robinson's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates.
"He was big and he had a real natural throwing motion," Robinson recalled. "I immediately pulled him aside and said, 'You need to play football for us.' I zeroed right in on him."
Thus, Mike DeBaugh would be no basketball player; he would be no tight end, either. Mike DeBaugh was Robinson's future starting quarterback.
"I'm glad he did that," DeBaugh said, chuckling. "I'm pretty heavily invested in the quarterback position now."
That's an understatement. Once given the opportunity to lead the offense, DeBaugh took a crash course in signal calling. He did everything from signing up for quarterback camps to honing his mechanics by himself in the backyard to breaking down film of guys like Peyton Manning.
By the fall of his sophomore year, he was deemed ready for varsity. But Perry Hall already had an established quarterback, so they relegated him to jayvee. DeBaugh responded by ripping apart the junior varsity competition, setting himself up for the starting varsity gig his junior season.
"He had all the measurables to be an elite quarterback at the varsity level," Robinson said. "He had the height, the strong arm and the pocket presence."
DeBaugh had his first chance to show what he could do during a spring 7-on-7 scrimmage against local powerhouse Eastern Tech. He was raw, for sure, but the talent was evident.
"The kid could throw," said DeBaugh's tight end, Antoine Snyder. "He was a tight end's best friend. He had a bullet and he put it right on the money."
That spring workout was just a scrimmage, but DeBaugh's shorts-and-T-shirt success translated well to pads. He started all 10 regulars season games last year and threw for 1,610 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The numbers alone are impressive, but they hardly tell the whole story. DeBuagh showed an unusual presence for a guy who had been playing quarterback for just two seasons, one on varsity. In fact, he was so cool and collected under fire Robinson trashed his pro-style offense in favor of a no-huddle, spread attack.
"You need a poised quarterback who can read defenses to run that type of offense," Robinson said. "And Mike never got rattled; he understood the mental part of the game. He ran the offense very well."
But DeBaugh didn't just step in and become a world-beater. He admittedly struggled with reading defenses and making split-second decisions. In his first game as a starter against Joppartowne he completed less than half his throws and threw his first interception.
But the very next week against Overlea, DeBaugh had a breakthrough. He stood tall in the pocket and dissected the defense with Manning-esque accuracy.
"I was clicking," said DeBaugh, who threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns that week. "I was reading the defense and I was making pinpoint throws. It gave me the confidence that I could be a leader and a good quarterback."
All good quarterbacks struggle, however, especially first-year starters. In-between his brilliant flashes, DeBaugh hit several lulls over the course of the year.
His mechanics tended to ebb and flow; he'd reach too far back on his throws, his release point was too low; his footwork was shaky; and his reads went in and out like a faulty TV set. He ended up throwing 10 interceptions last year, mainly because of poor decision-making.
"He was still adjusting to the speed of the game," Robinson said. "There was - and still is - things he needs to work on.
"In a lot of ways he reminds me of Joe Flacco with the Raven," Robinson continued. "He's not the most mobile guy, and sometimes he holds the ball too long. But he has the height and the big arm."
DeBaugh began to develop the finer parts of the game as the season moved along. His ability to pick apart defensive backs improved substantially. When he first started watching defenses he couldn't tell a zone blitz from a cover-3. But by the end of the year he could anticipate when, where, why and how a defender would react to a certain situation.
Against Milford Mill in Week 8, DeBaugh called for a trips formation with Snyder lined up in the slot. DeBaugh watched the safety creed up and then drop back, feinting a soft coverage. But the quarterback remembered the corner's aggressive tendencies from previous game film. He liked to fake off-coverage before jumping a route and going for the pick.
After the snap DeBaugh pump-faked, forcing the safety to lurch forward. Snyder, sensing opportunity, broke off his quick hitch and went deep. DeBaugh hit him in stride for a long gain.
"That was a breakthrough for him. He became a very calm, accurate passer," Snyder said. "He was quick to pick up things - very intelligent."
DeBaugh is without a doubt a quick learner, but he doesn't exactly exude an aura of calm. He's an easy-going, shaggy-haired, lanky teenage with a stronger resemblance to Shaggy from Scooby Doo then Slingin' Sammy Baugh.
"He's a real laid back, cool guy," Snyder said. "But trust me, he can play."
Next year, however, DeBaugh can be even better. In his second year under center he is setting the bar high, aiming for a deep playoff run and one of those rare college scholarships.
Early scouting reports have DeBuagh pegged as a I-AA prospect, and with a little more work he's confident he can get to that level.
"I feel like I have the potential, the work ethic and the drive to be an elite quarterback," DeBaugh said. "Hopefully I'll show some coaches I have what it takes. I'm bringing my 'A' game next year."