Woodbery back in mix for Panthers at quarterback


Bryan Bund

Eastern quarterback Harry Woodbery (8) hands the ball of to Eastern running back Isaiah Johnson in Eastern’s 48-10 loss to Illinois State in week two. Woodbery has 322 yards passing and three touchdowns this season.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Last spring when the Eastern football team added three new quarterbacks; Johnathan Brantley from Tulane, Harry Woodbery from Navarro Junior College and Qua Gray from Coronado High School; to a group that already included Scotty Gilkey Jr. and Jaylin Banks, it became clear a quarterback battle was going to wage through camp.

Brantley and Woodbery quickly separated themselves from the pack and for the entirety of spring camp, and even into fall camp this season, were neck and neck for the starting quarterback job. Every move one made to move ahead in the race, the other quickly matched or beat; it was the true type of teammate competition most schools would envy to have. 

Both quarterbacks were listed as the number one options in the team’s first three games this season against Arkansas, Illinois State and Indiana State. In the first two games the two split time, both having their ups and their downs. But then in week three against the Sycamores, Brantley threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns, and the next week he was listed as the starting quarterback for the team’s OVC opener against Tennessee State. 

This left Woodbery on the bench to start the game against the Tigers, but all along head coach Kim Dameron insisted the team still had two very good quarterbacks. Then in the fourth quarter against Tennessee State, with Eastern trailing 40-35 with under 10 minutes to play, Dameron noticed that Brantley looked “out of sorts” and called on Woodbery to take over in one of the team’s most crucial drives of the season. 

Woodbery entered the game and delivered. Woodbery connected with receiver Alexander Hollins on a 73-yard touchdown strike that put Eastern back in the lead at 40-35 after a failed two-point conversion. 

“I knew we needed a score and to go out and execute, let the offense come to me and let the plays work themselves out,” Woodbery said of his scoring drive. “Coach (Scott) Parr did a great job of getting us in a situation and to execute the play, and you saw the result.”

To be able to bring in a quarterback off the bench and have them perform like Woodbery did, finishing with 105 yards and one touchdown on 5 of 6 passing, is something most teams do not have the luxury of. Having Woodbery bring head coach Kim Dameron an extra dose of confidence, knowing he can count on him in any spot.

A duo like Woodbery and Brantley is something that Eastern has dearly missed in seasons past. When quarterback Mitch Kimble went down with injury last season, the rest of the quarterbacks struggled; Dameron said they were not quite ready. And that is what pleases him so much about Woodbery, he now has a guy in him, and Brantley he can rely on. 

“That’s why we play them both,” Dameron said. “For just that circumstance to where you may have to go in cold off the bench, get warmed up and hit it and you may have to go in and lead the game-winning drive. That’s part of having two quarterbacks, and to me it’s really nice.”

Obviously Woodbery was called into a big-situation to perform in, and he delivered. That is not easy to do, but that kind of clutch moments is something he says he watches for in NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of Woodbery’s favorites. Woodbery said he looks at Rodgers for his composure and confidence in any situation, much like the one Woodbery found himself in on Saturday. 

“One thing about Harry is he’s never going to be tentative about throwing the football,” Dameron said. “He is an aggressive player, and if he’s got a chance to put the ball down the field, he is going to do it. He’s been in this offense longer than even Johnathan (Brantley) and so (the Hollins touchdown throw) didn’t surprise me, the fact that the ball went where it was supposed to go, and it went on time and it was to the right the guy.”

The first thing Woodbery will tell you about as a football player is that he likes to win, and he likes to win a lot. He has a lot of confidence in his arm and feels he can put the ball anywhere on the field, which he displayed on the pass to Hollins late in the Tennessee State game. 

But with that said, Woodbery loves to win, but the team is currently 0-4 this season, but that is not something he said the team is letting weigh on them.

“We’ve got blinders on right now,” Woodbery said. “I know somebody being 0-4, it’s not great to hear that they’re not worried about their record, but, we’re just focused on this week, we’ve got one game this week, we want to go 1-0 this week and right now we’re just focused on getting better every day in practice and making sure that we are maximizing our effort and our attention to detail.”

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]