WEST TERRE HAUTE —
To say that Jimmy Maples has come a long way in 13 months is probably a huge understatement.
Since early August of 2012, the West Vigo High School senior has gone from a wide receiver and defensive back to an emergency quarterback to the veteran quarterback hoping to lead his team to an undisputed Western Indiana Conference championship — the first step of that latter journey being tonight, when the Vikings host Brown County.
And considering that Maples helped his team share the WIC crown last season — a season in which he admits he didn’t really know what he was doing some of the time — you’d have to say his chances are fairly good.
“We have a team that can win it, for sure,” he said this week.
Maples was a returning starter in the defensive backfield and was expecting to catch passes instead of throw them when practice for the 2012 season began, but an injury had opened up the quarterback job.
“I kind of expected [to be moved there],” said Maples, who hadn’t been behind center since sixth grade. “We didn’t have a backup ready, and I knew [the coaches] wanted an athlete [for the position].”
That wasn’t the only thing the coaches wanted, head coach Jeff Cobb indicated.
“He’s one of the most competitive kids we’ve ever had,” Cobb said, “and he’s a very smart kid.”
Maples’ reintroduction to the position didn’t go smoothly at first, partly because of the two teams he and the Vikings were facing. West Vigo lost 52-7 to Evansville Harrison (a decision later reversed by forfeit) and 44-0 to Greencastle.
“I was getting all my nerves out,” Maples recalled, “and the first two games were against a real fast team [Harrison] and a real good team [the Tiger Cubs].”
Tonight’s game is an anniversary of sorts for him, then, because last year’s Brown County game was the first time he started to feel comfortable and confident at quarterback.
“We were bigger,” he said, “so we could run, we could throw, pretty much anything. … It was the first time I got to play with a lead too.”
Results weren’t always pretty for Maples and the Vikings, but they lost just one WIC game. And in the regular-season finale Maples was dazzling, leading his team to win over Sullivan and a share of the conference championship with the Golden Arrows.
“His intelligence shows on the football field,” Cobb said. “Then his competitiveness takes over … and that can be good and it can be bad. I keep trying to tell him it’s OK to go down sometimes and not take a hit.”
After 13 months as a quarterback, Maples said this week that he’s enjoying the position and happy the way things have turned out.
“I’m glad [the coaches] gave me this leadership role,” he said. “They expect a lot out of me. When things are going bad, or when things are going good, they look for me.”
The game has slowed down considerably for him since those first two games last fall too, Maples said. Now he’s a quarterback, not just playing like one.
“It’s just making the right reads,” he said when asked how he’d improved in the past year. “Last year I didn’t really look at my reads.”
“We saw him progress a lot last year,” Cobb pointed out. “He was the key to our success in the WIC; he just got better and better and better.”
Valuable as he’s become as a quarterback, Maples also is still a valued member of the defensive backfield.
“He’s playing cornerback too,” Cobb noted, “and until we can get somebody as good as he is [for that spot] he’ll continue.
“He’s the leader of this team. He’s got a lot of fire in him.”