Seabreeze rising sophomore Isaiah Shirley has never played quarterback before. Until now.
It was right before spring practice.
Isaiah Shirley was excited for the start of football. Earlier that fall, the Seabreeze freshman dominated as a wide receiver on the Sandcrabs’ junior varsity team, earning MVP honors. Shirley could barely contain himself at the thought of catching touchdown passes from starting quarterback Jadyn Nirschl on the Sandcrabs’ varsity squad.
Then, while Shirley sat at home alone, his cell phone flashed and buzzed beside him. It was the Sandcrabs’ head coach, Troy Coke.
Nirschl had left the program, transferring to nearby DeLand, and Seabreeze was left without a signal caller. Coke was calling to ask Shirley if he wanted the job.
At first, he was hesitant. In his four years of playing football, he had only ever played wide receiver — a position he was skilled at, a position he loved.
How could I play quarterback? Shirley thought to himself. He wanted to tell Coke that he didn’t think he’d be able to do it.
But still, something gnawed at him. He couldn’t walk away.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could to help this team,” Shirley said.
So, before even attempting a single pass, Shirley became the leader of the Seabreeze Sandcrabs’ offense.
‘I DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO PLAY QUARTERBACK ANYMORE’
Shirley went into his first practice as a quarterback upbeat. He was eager to prove to his teammates — and to himself — that he was more than a pass-catching athlete. He wanted to prove that he was capable of leading this offense and this team.
With Seabreeze’s longtime quarterback now at another school, Shirley aimed to gain his teammates’ trust.
“I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t play,” he said. “I wanted to prove to them that we could still win and that I could be good.”
Shirley paced himself through the individual drills. Then came the next trial: the scrimmage.
His inexperience showed. He struggled with his timing, his release, his touch and — most importantly — his ability to read the defense. In Shirley’s very first practice as Seabreeze’s starting quarterback, the focal point to the offense, he threw three interceptions.
“I went home so angry,” Shirley said. “I didn’t even want to play quarterback anymore.”
The unsteady emotions as a result of the shaky first practice clouded Shirley’s mind. But, the feeling thing that gnawed at him when his coach first asked him to lead the team continued to tug at him: his responsibility to do what needed to be done.
With patience and guidance from the coaching staff, Shirley went to work. He improved his mechanics, forcing an arm that was never used to throwing into a weapon of consistency. He formed a chemistry with his teammates.
And, he studied defenses.
In the heat of his first summer with the varsity team, the struggles are still there. He’s only been on the job a few months now. Shirley still misses on throws and gets confused by opposing defenses.
But there’s marked improvement. First was the 7-on-7 camp on June 19 at the University of Central Florida. Shirley showed much better command of his throws and of the offense. And in Seabreeze’s 7-on-7 scrimmage against Halifax Academy and Trinity Christian on June 27, Shirley threw eight total touchdowns to just one interception.
“I think I’m definitely reading the defenses so much better,” he said. “It helps knowing what I want to do before the play starts. That was something I’ve struggled with a lot, but the offensive coordinator has worked with me a lot on that to help me know where the open person is going to be.”
‘I JUST HOPE I CAN SCORE AS MANY POINTS AS I CAN’
Although the rising sophomore has steadily improved, the nerves, the desire to do right by his teammates and by his school, are still there.
When the Sandcrabs exit the tunnel at Daytona Beach Stadium for their preseason game against Titusville on Aug. 17, all eyes will be on him.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Shirley said. “I just hope I can score as many points as I can.”