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Jimbo’s triple option: A&M’s QB problem

Sophomore+QB+Haynes+King+%2813%29+rushes+down+the+field+during+the+Aggies+game+against+Sam+Houston+State+at+Kyle+Field+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+3%2C+2022.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Sophomore QB Haynes King (13) rushes down the field during the Aggies’ game against Sam Houston State at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.

A story doesn’t begin at the climax. There’s exposition and character development that leads up to a breaking point. The buildup makes a story engaging, because if there wasn’t a compelling journey, why should anyone care about the outcome?

The same goes for the story of the quarterback battle at Texas A&M. There are three quarterbacks — all different, not only in playstyle but in character — who all have the potential to start this year, next year or the year after that. But, only one can be the starter at a time. We are at the climax, but what are the stories behind the players and how do they all fit into coach Jimbo Fisher’s larger narrative? 

Max Johnson

Our story begins in Watkinsville, Ga., a town of fewer than 3,000 people about 60 miles east of Atlanta. Beyond the edge of town sits a secondary school, Oconee County High School. The Oconee County Warriors have had a surprisingly solid track record of producing quarterbacking talent. Zach Mettenberger, Class of 2009, was a four-star recruit, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He originally signed with Georgia before going to LSU and the NFL. Zeb Noland, son of the team’s head coach from 2014 to 2021, Travis Noland, was a three-star recruit in the Class of 2016 before attending Iowa State and ending his career in dramatic fashion with South Carolina, a story worth reading if you’re unfamiliar.

And yet, despite this, the most successful quarterback in the Watkinsville area might be a 53-year-old man named Brad Johnson. Brad is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who played 17 years in the NFL, throwing for 29,054 yards and 166 touchdowns in his career. Brad’s wife, Nikki, was a standout athlete herself, playing volleyball at South Florida where she set multiple school records.

With that much talent, it’s no surprise that their children would succeed in sports as well. Their youngest, Jake, was the No. 1 tight end in the Class of 2022, signing with A&M. Packaged alongside him was older brother Max, who spent two seasons with LSU before transferring to A&M to play with Jake. Max was a four-star recruit himself, rounding out an athletic powerhouse of a family.

“[The Johnsons are] very Christian-based,” Ben Noland said, who was teammates with Max and Jake at Oconee County. “They never want to brag about themselves or anybody. They always want to talk someone else up other than themselves. It’s never about them.”

Regardless of his background and support structure, Max didn’t get where he is without hard work, Tate Yancey said, who backed up Max at Oconee County. What took him to his heights were intangible — work ethic, knowledge, leadership and character.

“He’s extremely smart, and he’s just really sneaky athletic,” Yancey said. “Being able to throw with Jake and his dad, he just knows what’s going to happen. He can explain stuff to you. He’s a tall, lanky dude, but he can move just as well as anyone else I’ve seen.”

Yancey recalled his memories with Max during the football season, a man he still calls a friend. During Max’s senior year, the Warriors would host team meetings in the school’s auditorium before games. Yancey couldn’t remember if it was Senior Night or if it was deep in the team’s playoff run, but he did remember Max’s spirit.

“Our coach started asking the seniors, ‘What do y’all want from this season?’” Yancey said. “And he got to Max, and Max was like, ‘I want to win a state championship. This is why we’re here. Nothing else matters. We’re here to win, and we’re here to do everything it takes to win.’ And that just kind of showed him as a competitor.”

Yancey assured Max’s intentions at A&M are to compete and win, something he practices in his daily life. Yancey said whether it’s something simple such as video games or pickleball, a game they picked up over this last summer, it is always go-time for Max.

On the field, Ben described Max as versatile — capable of both sitting in the pocket and delivering the throw or capable of escaping the pressure with his legs. Off the field, Ben described Max as a best friend, a guest at his upcoming wedding, a leader and a great teammate.

“He’s someone you want on your team,” Ben said. “He never brings anyone down, he always brings them along with him. He’ll never talk bad about anyone, it doesn’t matter who it is. His worst enemy, he’ll build them up if they need it, and he’s always going to be there for you.”

During his senior season, Max led Oconee County to the 2019-20 GHSA Class 4A State Football Championship game, where they played against Blessed Trinity who was coming off back-to-back titles. The Warriors fell short of their first title, but Max was recognized as the Georgia 4A Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts that season.

Haynes King

That same season down in Texas, another quarterback ended his high school career with a playoff loss. During his senior year, Haynes King and the Longview High School Lobos faced off against Dallas Jesuit in the second round. The Lobos failed on their final three extra-point attempts en route to a 27-25 loss.

“There’s a lot of great [memories],” John King said, recalling his time with Haynes at Longview. John served two major roles in Haynes’ life: father and coach. “And yet, I don’t remember them as much as I remember the few bad ones. The two losses we had, those stick with you more than the wins and the great moments. You think about what you could have done.”

Haynes had a 37-2 record at Longview High School, a standout record for a player at a school that consistently produces NFL talent. He was a multi-sport athlete and ended his high school career as a four-star quarterback and the No. 131 prospect in the entire Class of 2020.

And while seeing Haynes’ two losses as more memorable than his wins may seem very glass-half-empty, it makes sense in context: Haynes never lost a regular season game — and to the Kings, it was always about winning it all.

In Haynes’ junior year, he pulled it off: a perfect season. Longview achieved a perfect record of 16-0, winning the 2018-19 UIL Football Conference 6A D2 championship against West Brook High School while outscoring its opponents in the playoffs by a margin of 283 to 143 over six playoff games. Longview had won its first title since 1937. This was no accident, though. This was a story in the works.

John remembered being on the bus riding to the state championship game, tackling the 150-mile journey from Longview High School to the home of Texas’ high school championships—AT&T Stadium. Haynes always sat behind his father on the bus. The two had been there before, not necessarily in the stadium, but in this position. In 2008 and 2009, John coached the Lobos to consecutive championship appearances, both resulting in losses to Lake Travis High School from Austin. Haynes had been along for the ride, serving as the team’s ball boy back then.

“I told [Haynes], ‘Boy, we’re going to realize this, but we may have to come home [without a title],’” John said. “And [Haynes] said, ‘We ain’t going to lose this one, daddy.’ And that’s just who he was. He loved playing for his community, for his high school and side-by-side with guys he grew up with. It meant something to him, and you don’t find that too often. Not in today’s world.”

Haynes scored 50 total touchdowns in his championship-winning junior season, a testament to the hard work he put in. Haynes isn’t one to sit on his tail, he knows he’s imperfect, and he’ll always look to improve, John said. He can be quiet and to himself, but John referred to Haynes as a chameleon, being able to fit into his surroundings and with anybody, a skill that helps him in building relationships with those around him.

But if there’s one character trait that is instilled in Haynes, it’s one he got from his father: work ethic. Haynes may be known for his foot speed, creativity with the football and ability to keep plays alive, but John attributes a lot of Haynes’ success to his knowledge of the game and his pursuit of that knowledge. John said Haynes doesn’t just try to learn his part of the offense, he studies the defense, the run game and the offensive line, a skill he learned from his father who had experience playing and coaching along the offensive line.

“Being a coach’s kid, he was kind of a gym rat around here, studying film and watching older kids play and practice,” John said.

Haynes’ love for the grind never ceased, even as he made his way to A&M. He was set to be the starter as a redshirt freshman, but a tibia fracture he suffered in Week 2 cut his season short. He earned the starting job in 2021 because of his efforts throughout 2020, his redshirt season. He was eager to learn and improve, exemplified ahead of the team’s 2020 bowl game against North Carolina, the Orange Bowl. Haynes had been exposed to COVID-19 and was forced to miss postseason practices as a result.

“[Haynes] had to quarantine because he was exposed,” John said. “And, he was bored, so he pull[ed] his truck up to the back of the grass practice field and [sat] on the hood of his truck and watche[d] practice because that’s just what it meant to him. That’s who he is.”

Conner Weigman

Two years younger than both Johnson and King is Conner Weigman. Coming out of Bridgeland High School, a new school in the Houston area built in 2017, Weigman was a higher-rated prospect than both of his new teammates, ranking as the No. 2 quarterback in the Class of 2022.

“There are kids that come along every so often that you’ll hear some people say they’re the ‘total package,’” Paul Orlando said, Weigman’s baseball coach at Bridgeland. “[Weigman] has all of that: the tools, the fundamentals, the heart [and] the personal drive to compete at the highest level possible.”

Weigman was a standout at Bridgeland as a two-sport athlete, playing both football and baseball. He is set to play both sports during his time at A&M.

Weigman was an early enrollee at A&M during the spring of 2022, forcing him to miss his senior season of baseball at Bridgeland. He had the opportunity to play for A&M’s baseball team during the spring season, but instead, he opted to sit out and focus on football, learning the new program and developing his skills as a quarterback. Weigman will wait until at least the spring of 2023 to start his collegiate baseball career.

“[Weigman]’s got a playful side, and he can relax, but he’s very serious about what he does. He’s just very driven to be good,” Orlando said. “His presence on a team, he’s naturally a leader. He has the ability to get teammates around him and raise up their level of play, which I know translates to him being successful on the football field as a quarterback. You have to step into the huddle and lead the team down the field. That’s the name of the game. In baseball, any time we had rallies or we needed anything or someone to step up and do things, he was always the center of that. He naturally has that ability.”

Bridgeland was a brand new football program when Weigman stepped foot in Ken Pridgeon Stadium for the first time. During Bridgeland’s first season in 2018, the Bears were just 3-7 with a 2-6 record in district play. Joining the team as a sophomore, Weigman started the season splitting action with the team’s incumbent quarterback, then-junior Finn Nicholson.

The two had nearly even splits between Weeks 1 and 2, but by Week 3, Weigman had taken over the job. He put up 3,230 total yards and 34 total touchdowns on the season, leading the team to an 8-3 record, 6-2 in district action. Weigman also won District 14-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Nicholson transferred to Second Baptist School to continue playing quarterback and now plays at the Colorado School of Mines as a wide receiver.

“Sometimes athletes that are quick, fast, that get certain jumps and reads on balls, the game seems to slow down for them,” Orlando said. “You can see it.” 

As Weigman continued to improve, so did Bridgeland. In his junior season, the team went undefeated in conference action with a 12-1 record, losing to Rockwall-Heath High School in the third round. In his first full season as a starter, he accrued 4,382 total yards and 51 total touchdowns, winning the District 16-6A Offensive Player of the Year award. As a senior, the team was 11-3 and Weigman had 3,341 total yards and 38 total touchdowns.

His senior season saw Weigman earn numerous awards including the District 16-6A Offensive MVP, Houston Touchdown Club Offensive Player of the Year and National High School Quarterback of the Year by the National Quarterback Club. As a top-tier recruit, Weigman committed to A&M, and his high school teammate Andrew Maleski — a Class of 2022 wide receiver who caught 17 touchdowns from Weigman in their senior seasons — joined the Aggies as well as a priority walk-on athlete.

When it comes to the level of athlete Weigman exemplifies, Orlando can point to times when he would hit a ground ball and just narrowly make it safely to first base. He can point to times when, at shortstop, Weigman would make a play on a ball that no high school kid should have any business reaching. But, one way to exemplify just what kind of an athlete Weigman is, Orlando recalled a story.

The team was in Brenham in the middle of a tournament. Weigman was a junior, his final season of high school baseball, unbeknownst to those in attendance. Weigman worked his way to a count of three balls and zero strikes. In baseball, batters typically do not swing at the next pitch, because if the pitcher throws another ball, the batter advances to first on a walk. If the pitcher throws a strike, the batter will resume action with a 3-1 count.

Weigman stepped out of the box and looked down at Orlando. Orlando looked at Weigman. Orlando knew exactly what the kid wanted: he wanted to take the chance and swing at the next pitch.

“I gave him the sign that, if it’s there, if it’s your pitch, just take it,” Orlando said. “Go ahead and get after it. And, he hit one of the hardest balls that I’ve seen. He lost the ball out in left-center[field] and it was gone in about three seconds. It’s just one of those things where he has the ability to do things like that — you’d love to be able to coach a bunch of Conner [Weigmans].”

Texas A&M has a quarterback problem, not because they don’t have one, but because they have three. All of them — Johnson, King and Weigman — have different skill sets, personalities and stories. Fisher has a plan for them, one we don’t yet know. One may be the present, one may be the future, but all are entangled in Fisher’s plans. One thing is true of all three though: they did everything they could to earn the right to be in this position. Now, Fisher has a quarterback problem, and it’s a pretty good problem to have.

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