Only one year has passed since Northwest High School senior Chris Craddock stepped into his role as starting quarterback for the Jaguars football team. But he’s evolved so much as a player, and a person, “he’s like a completely different kid,” Coach Mike Neubeiser said.
“Last year he didn’t have the confidence, but this year it’s all clicked,” Northwest’s coach continued. “He’s so confident in what he’s doing. He prepared a lot harder for this season; he understands you can’t just step onto the field and play, so he’s put in a lot of time and effort.”
Craddock is just the type of quarterback a team needs to survive—and contend—in arguably Maryland’s most competitive classification: 4A. He can run, he can pass, he knows the playbook in and out, he’s got good instincts and, perhaps most importantly, he believes in his ability. He’s even stepped out of his comfort zone to take on a more prominent leadership role.
“It’s not really his character to be (a vocal leader); last year he was kind of a kid who came to practice and did what he was supposed to do and didn’t talk a lot,” Neubeiser said. “This year he’s gone out of his way to make sure everyone else is doing what they need to do.”
And that will become increasingly important as Northwest prepares for playoffs. The Jaguars hit a bit of a snag in their 38-29 loss to traditional rival Quince Orchard on Oct. 27, their first defeat to a Montgomery County Public Schools opponent this fall, but are still on pace for a rematch in the Class 4A West Region final—though Neubeiser said he’s not looking past Friday’s season finale against Bethesda-Chevy Chase (3-6).
“As hard as it is, sometimes you benefit more from a loss,” Neubeiser said. “Going in, I think our kids felt confident and it’s good to know we’re similar caliber to Quince Orchard, and I think it kind of puts the spotlight on some things we need to fix prior to playoffs. This forces us to focus on some things, which is good.”
Northwest gained some early momentum against Quince Orchard—including AJ Woods’ 80-yard touchdown reception from Craddock—to take a 17-7, second-quarter lead. But the Jaguars had a difficult time stopping the Cougars’ ground game throughout the contest. Unless Quince Orchard had a penalty or an early setback in a series, Northwest struggled to get the Cougars off the field, Neubeiser said. That coupled with a blocked punt near the end zone and an interception returned for a touchdown, and the cards were stacked quite high against Northwest.
The Jaguars also struggled to match up with Quince Orchard’s size on the line. But the next few weeks, until a potential rematch, will serve as a sort of halftime, Neubeiser said. Northwest will have time to make adjustments and add some new wrinkles. Plus, senior running back Juwon Farri, whose status due to a sprained ankle was uncertain prior to Friday’s contest, will hopefully be back at full strength. Through eight games, he rushed for nearly 1,000 and 12 touchdowns.
Craddock has a smorgasbord of athletic receivers to choose from. Led by Norval Black (362 yards in eight games), six players—Alphonso Foray (249), Isiah Williams (170), AJ Woods (149), Juwon Farri (144) and Andrew Howard (120)—have caught for more than 100 yards.
“It’s crazy how important the quarterback is in high school football,” Neubeiser said. “You can’t go in with a kid who’s not confident and who’s struggling. You have to have a kid like (Craddock). … I think we and Quince Orchard match up pretty well against each other, as far as talent. I think it will be a great matchup if we meet them again.”