Wheeler’s Elijah Staley making his mark on the field and court
September 06, 2012 07:07 PM | 3558 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds Wheeler’s Elijah Staley looks right at home running up and down the basketball court. In fact, on some teams, there would be a question as to whether he would play guard, traditionally one of the positions on the floor for shorter players, or small forward.

However, that’s not the case when it comes to him suiting up for the Wildcats football team.

Normally, players Staley’s height don’t find their way to the gridiron, and if they do, they usually play on the offensive or defensive lines. That’s where he started playing when he took up the game at age 8, but that changed after his first season to his current position — quarterback.

That didn’t always sit so well with some of the parents of other players that had to try to tackle Staley in the youth leagues. And always being the biggest kid on the field forced his parents to bring official documents to all his games.

“People always thought I was older than I was,” Staley said. “My parents always had to have my birth certificate on hand as proof.”

This will be the second season for Staley under center with the Wildcats, and according to coach Mike Collins, his junior prospect has really grown — pun intended — into the job. And Staley agrees.

“Last year, against Pope (Wheeler’s opponent tonight), I came out and was really nervous because it was my first game. But now, things don’t bother me.”

As a sophomore, Staley completed 40 percent of his passes for 833 yards and four touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the important thing was he helped Wheeler to a 4-6 record — the team’s best mark since 2007. Staley has Wheeler pointed in the right direction again this season after completing 15 of 21 passes for 141 yards, and rushing for another 48 yards in the Wildcats 10-7 season-opening victory over Sprayberry two weeks ago — and Collins said his quarterback’s leadership is a big reason Wheeler will by trying to go 2-0 for the first time in 15 years tonight.

“Two weeks ago, when we needed it in the second half, (Staley) came and told me, ‘Put it on me.’” Collins said. “When we needed it, he completed the big pass for a first down.”

Maybe, more importantly, Collins also said his quarterback with the big, beaming Magic Johnson-like smile knows when to be that leader. He knows when it’s the proper time to throw in a joke or a one-liner to break the tension, but he also knows when to ratchet up the intensity when the team is not responding as it should.

“He has a lot of charisma,” Collins said. “His teammates follow him.”

Staley’s talents have made Collins alter the way he normally would use his offense. The veteran coach is known for running an option-style offense, but with a drop-back passer that has the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, Collins said this offseason he worked with the receivers on their pass routes more than ever before.

One thing Staley does not have to worry about is being able to see his receivers downfield. He sees his height as a definite advantage because he can see over both lines, the officials and anything else that might get in his way, and he wants his game to evolve like another big quarterback – former Auburn Tiger and current Carolina Panther Cam Newton. Newton is 6-5, but more of a threat to run. Staley said he prefers to stay in the pocket.

If there would be one concern for Staley at quarterback, one would think he may be susceptible to injury. With players anywhere from 6 to 8 inches, or a foot, shorter than Staley trying to tackle him, his knees would likely be a prime hitting target. To this point, it hasn’t been an issue, which is good, because if he continues to improve and stay healthy, Staley is going to have some difficult decisions to make – as in which college to attend and which sport to play.

As a consistent double-digit scorer for Wheeler’s traditional state championship caliber basketball team, Staley has already garnered scholarship offers from five SEC schools – Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss – a trio of ACC programs – Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami – along with Cincinnati, Georgetown and Central Florida.

As a potential football player, Staley has already been offered a scholarship by Vanderbilt and he said there are others that are showing interest including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Michigan State.

At this point, he said he has no idea which sport wants to play and if he is leaning in a particular school’s direction he’s not letting on. But for any college recruiters that may want to contact the talented young man with a potential offer, there may be a way to get a leg up on the competition – bring more than one uniform.

“I’d like an opportunity to play both (sports) in college,” Staley said.

John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com

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