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Two-quarterback system with Jayden Crace, Khalil Osbin works for Evergreen football

The Plainsmen are one of a few local teams incorporating multiple QBs in some form this season

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
Evergreen quarterbacks Jayden Crace, left, and Khalil Osbin pause for a portrait during football practice at Evergreen High School on Tuesday, October 12, 2022.
Evergreen quarterbacks Jayden Crace, left, and Khalil Osbin pause for a portrait during football practice at Evergreen High School on Tuesday, October 12, 2022. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At almost every level of football, the school of thought on quarterback playing time is the same.

Typically, one player has sole ownership of the position, handling first-team reps in practice and leading the offense from a game’s start to finish. Barring injury or subpar performance, teams are unlikely to give more than one person an opportunity to play.

Yet while many coaches shy away from the idea of playing multiple quarterbacks, some Southwest Washington high schools are doing it in some form this season.

Ridgefield, for example, used the first two games of the season to evaluate juniors Brayden Malella and Logan DeBeaumont before the latter became the full-time starter.

Evergreen went one step further with returning starter Jayden Crace, a junior, and senior Khalil Osbin, a transfer from Heritage. Rather than feeling obligated to choose one over the other, the Plainsmen made room for both players. Crace is considered the starter, but depending on the flow of a game any given week, the two may trade off series by series, quarter or half.

“See, with the quarterback position, it gets stigmatized a lot of the time,” Evergreen coach Christian Swain said. “You can play eight, nine receivers in a game, three different running backs, you can rotate all these other position groups, but for some reason, we take the quarterback position and say it has to be one person. For me, I feel like I have two players that work hard in practice, that do the things we ask them to do and they both deserve to play. So they both play.”

They’ve made the arrangement work because there’s been virtually no drop off between the two during the team’s 6-1 start through seven weeks. Most importantly, Crace and Osbin, who didn’t know each other before they became teammates, have embraced each other and approached the situation unselfishly.

“I feel like we focused on building a friendship,” Osbin said. “We came in knowing that it’s not going to help the team if we’re not working as a unit. We wanted to just be friends.”

Osbin’s transfer to Evergreen in the offseason, after starting at Heritage for his junior season, came as a surprise to Swain. The two met and Osbin talked about his goals for the season, namely, improving as a leader and having a good experience in his final high school season. Of course, he also wanted to play quarterback.

Already having a returning starter in Crace, that created a dilemma for Evergreen. Crace took the first-team reps starting in spring practices, but Osbin also got opportunities and made a good impression.

Eventually, coaches decided both would play this season. Crace was open to the idea as well. Their ongoing competition pushed each of them to become better quarterbacks, he said.

“Part of the challenge every single day (is) not being able to sit back and coast during practice,” Crace said. “If one of us is going hard, the other one realizes we gotta step it up, because it’s a competition all the time. It’s been awesome, it’s been good on and off the field. We hang out, we’re buddies, I think that’s the biggest thing. People ask us if it’s created any bad blood or anything, but it’s been super cool.”

At Ridgefield, DeBeaumont and Malella have vied for the starting quarterback role since their sophomore seasons in 2021. They split reps during spring practices and summer 7-on-7 scrimmages, then alternated during the first two games of the season against W.F. West and Mountain View. Malella was injured in the latter game, which made Ridgefield’s decision to go with DeBeaumont as starter a bit simpler. As seniors next year, it’s possible the two could compete for the job again.

According to Ridgefield coach Scott Rice, the team took a data-driven approach to the competition, paying close attention to in-game production during the first two weeks of the season. But, there are certain qualities that can’t be quantified. In particular, Rice said, he wanted to see a quarterback who can “run the show” and play with poise.

“Picking a quarterback, I’m realizing as a young head coach, it’s a lot of feel,” Ridgefield coach Scott Rice said. “You might not have the right data for the right kid all the time.”

Feel is a key part of Evergreen’s balance between Osbin and Crace. In a 20-14 win over Mountain View on Sept. 30, Crace orchestrated a pair of first-half touchdown drives, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Landry. Osbin came in to start the third quarter and delivered the go-ahead touchdown, a 41-yard strike to Arthur Ban.

The split has worked so far, but coaches have made clear to the signal-callers that if one has the hot hand in an important game later this season, the team will stick with that player rather than feel compelled to get both of them in.

“They have been very mature and good teammates,” Swain said. “After the Mountain View win they were taking pictures together, even after (the game against Camas Oct. 7) when we didn’t play very well they were in here going through film and supporting each other. There’s no envy when the other one’s in the game, because the communication has been very transparent. They know what to expect.”

This isn’t the first team coached by Swain to incorporate two quarterbacks. Ahead of the 2018 season at Columbia River, senior quarterback Dawson Lieurance transferred from Ridgefield and joined fellow senior quarterback Matt Asplund on River’s roster.

Swain, then River’s head coach, played both of them. Each went on to play in college — Lieurance at Linfield and Asplund at Rocky Mountain College.

The dynamic between Crace and Osbin is similar, and their head coach believes both are capable of playing in college.

“I think they both can play on Saturdays if they want to,” Swain said. “Jayden’s got a whole ‘nother year and a whole ‘nother offseason to develop. Obviously we feel really good about him, he’s a special, special player. But with Khalil being a senior, he’s a great player too, we want to make sure he’s getting film and a chance to play, so if he wants to play on Saturdays he can do that.”

Could Evergreen be a rare example of a two-quarterback system working? While the Plainsmen recognize the unique factors in their situation, they believe it can be a model for success.

I think we might be starting something, like this might be a little thing that’s going around,” Osbin said. “Just pushing the narrative that two QBs can play at once. It doesn’t have to just be one. Whatever helps your team win.”

Added Crace: “If things would’ve been rocky or we would’ve faced more adversity … maybe people would’ve been a little more doubtful. But I think for both of us, knowing that we’ve come out hot, we’re (6-1), we’ve both done great things. … No matter who’s in, we’re doing good, our team is winning and we’re having fun doing it.”