South Charlotte

Country Day 'blessed' by quarterback tradition

Michael Radford started playing football in seventh grade at Charlotte Country Day School. He played quarterback and running back.

On his first play, Radford broke his left collarbone. He said he almost quit right there.

Luckily for Country Day, he didn't.

In his first year as starting quarterback for the Buccaneers, Radford, a 6-foot-3 190-pound junior, has led Country Day to a 6-1 record, thrown for more than 1,000 yards and is also the team's leading rusher.

Radford, 16, had to take over after two-year starter Morgan Roberts, now at Clemson, graduated. He heard plenty of comparisons.

"It was hard at first because everyone was thinking, 'How's Michael going to be? Is he going to be good? Is he going to be bad? We don't know because Morgan was great. We want another Morgan,'" said Radford.

Roberts rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns and passed for 1,968 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, leading Country Day to a state championship. Radford was the backup on varsity last year and soaked up as much as he could from the senior.

"I love him, he's a great guy. ... He taught me everything I know," said Radford. "He helped me with everything, footwork, how to throw it, what to look for."

Radford also has been helped by assistant coaches Steve Gardner and Drew Witman, head coach Bob Witman's son who played quarterback at William Jewell College.

He must be a good listener.

Through seven games, Radford is 57-for-105 passing for 1,270 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has 67 rushes for a team-high 465 yards and 12 touchdowns, though he admits many of those are goal line quarterback sneaks. The Bucs also haven't had one main running back this year, spreading carries and yards over several players.

"I love running," said Radford, who credits his experienced offensive line with much of his success this year. "I used to play running back, so I have that in me, kind of. I mean, I like it; it's fun."

Bob Witman says he sees many similarities in the way Radford and Roberts play. They are both dual sport athletes, with Roberts playing basketball and Radford is a talented lacrosse player.

"I think he has as much talent as Morgan did last year," he said. "He's very quick on his feet, strong arm, quick release, very courageous. He's got a lot of upside."

Radford is the third in a line of talented quarterbacks at Country Day. Before Roberts there was Hedley Jennings, now a sophomore quarterback at Trinity College.

"We've been very blessed, very spoiled with good quarterbacks," said Witman. "We knew Morgan was going to have no problem stepping in as we knew Michael would have no problem stepping in. He's athletic, you know, far above any of the other candidates. He's a natural."

Radford has had his struggles, primarily in the rivalry game against Charlotte Catholic Sept. 3, the Bucs' only loss. The Country Day defense had a stellar game, holding the Catholic offense to just 21 points, but turnovers and missed opportunities plagued the offense.

The Bucs had four turnovers in the second half of the 21-7 loss, including an interception thrown by Radford. Radford took responsibility for the miscues and said he's trying to learn from them.

"It was a great learning experience," he said. "The fumbles were because of my composure in the huddles. I wasn't speaking loud enough and I was mumbling so no one heard what I was saying. But that definitely helps because I'm trying to enunciate what I'm saying."

Witman said he has seen his quarterback get better each week and learn from mistakes he's made.

"The thing about playing organized football is there's not many chances to play so every one is very valuable," he said. "Quarterback, to me, is the hardest position in any sport to play as far as the mental and physical aspect. There's a lot moving fast, a lot happens, a lot of unknowns and every game adds to their experience."

Over the final three weeks of the season, Radford will play his biggest games of the year in conference matches against Charlotte Christian (Oct. 14), Providence Day (Oct. 21) and Charlotte Latin (Oct. 28). Despite losing a lot of talent from last year, the Bucs will likely be one of the top seeds entering the playoffs and will have a good chance to repeat as state champions.

Staying healthy will be key to Country Day having a chance at the title, said Witman. This year's team isn't as fast or athletic as last year, but they're smart and they've learned a lot from last year.

"We're not the most athletic bunch, but we definitely go out there knowing what the other defense is going to do ... and we outthink them," said Radford. "That's what I think our strength is."