That’s the time frame coach Jack Crowe has in mind for quarterback Steven Coates to become a regular in the offense. The redshirt sophomore showed his potential in a big way Friday night, throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns and accounting for four scores as the White routed the Red, 45-15, in an excercise that was sped up in the second half because of the one-sided score.
“I took this game as a chance to show my talents and show that I’ve improved and I feel like the biggest thing I’ve improved on is my understanding of the playbook, but I still have a lot of work to do, I know that,” Coates said. “I knew going into this spring it was just me and Kyle (West), so I knew if anything I had to keep myself healthy and just be there the whole spring for the team.”
It really was a watered-down version of a spring game, with several regulars being held out for injuries. That’s partly the reason Coates got such a long look.
Coty Blanchard has been playing baseball for the second straight spring and senior starter Marques Ivory, expected to pick up the pace after spring break, was shelved as soon as swelling developed in the ankle he broke in last year’s season opener.
Running the first offense against a first defense still getting the hang of a new approach and missing several regulars, Coates hit his first eight passes and finished 16 of 19 for the game. West was 7 of 18 for 71 yards with two interceptions, one of which Jeremy Harrison returned 95 yards for a White touchdown.
In defense of the first defense, most were of the regulars were on the injury list, making it really the 1 Offense against the ones who were left. In fact, each team had 10 players on the injured list, including four DBs in the regular rotation. Eleven players took snaps for both teams.
Against that backdrop, Coates and the White team scored the first five times it had the ball and added the defensive score to open a 38-0 lead at halftime.
Even with an offensive line that had to play for both teams because of depth issues -- and drew praises for it -- Coates did have the benefit of three senior receivers and a senior running back who Crowe said “know they’re good.”
Alan Bonner caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Trey Smith caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. Running back Washaun Ealey ran for 89 yards and scored a touchdown rushing and receiving.
“He had some good players around him,” Crowe said. “But I think he took care of it, too.”
In just the first half, Coates had a 3-yard touchdown run and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Bonner and a 24-yarder to Smith. Ealey had an 11-yard touchdown run, Griffin Thomas kicked a 41-yard field goal and Harrison had his interception return. The only White touchdown in the second half came on a 13-yard Coates pass to Ealey.
The Red team scored on a 67-yard Gabe Chambers punt return in the third quarter and a 1-yard run by fullback Lequintez Reynolds with 3:46 to play.
“That was a great start (to the fall), to finish off our spring practice like that,” Bonner said. “Steven, he’s gotten a lot better. It starts with Steven tonight. He’s come a long way. All the practices, all the film watching, we’ve got a whole offense behind him right now. If Marques comes back and he has to go down or Coty comes back and he goes down, we have confidence in Steven to come in and make plays.”
“I believe in both of them,” added rising senior safety Brooks Robinson.
Coates, whose development has been hampered by a series of hand and ankle injuries, said it was “a good feeling” to go through the spring 100 percent healthy and being out there with his team. He could become an even more valuable commodity this fall if Blanchard has a big summer in the Cape Cod League and decides to concentrate on baseball in the run up to next June’s draft.
“I’m just going to go out there and go as hard as I can and play as hard as I can and do what I can to make them want to put me on the field,” Coates said.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.