From left to right, freshman wide receiver Willie Cherry, freshman quarterback Deeb Haber, and freshman tight end Ryan Luehrman pose for a portrait at Peden Stadium on April 12, 2017. (EMILY MATTHEWS | PHOTO EDITOR)
Ohio quarterback Deeb Haber dropped back to pass during last Saturday’s practice, watching his receivers fly down the field.
Haber spotted Willie Cherry, an early enrollee freshman wide receiver, streaking down the field. Haber chose the young wideout.
As the ball sailed through the air, it continued over Cherry’s head. Pass incomplete. Play over.
Haber, who was a freshman walk-on last season, is one of many young players on Ohio who is still learning how to handle the nuances of the game. In learning, Haber and others participate in a practice session that only involves the team’s younger players near the end of each practice.
The practices have helped, as the team pits its young players against one another. The players on the offense run the Bobcats’ base offense, and the same goes for the players on the defense.
Each side wants to pick up more reps, and each player wants to improve on a skill.
“Just learning more about the defense and what they’re doing helps a lot,” Haber said. “And that’s basically what I’m focused on right now.”
Haber is one of four quarterbacks on Ohio’s roster for the spring, along with Quinton Maxwell, Joey Duckworth and Nathan Rourke. As a walk-on, Haber is presumably not favored to win the starting job, or maybe even see the field for a few years.
Last season, Haber only earned reps in Ohio’s offense when working with the scout team, which consists mainly of young players. And because he has worked in the young players’ practice sessions, he has earned more reps overall.
“He’s got a really good understanding of our offense,” offensive coordinator Tim Albin said.
Aside from Haber’s increasing understanding of Ohio’s offense — and Ohio’s defense — Cherry is just trying to adjust to football at the college level.
And maybe some of that Ohio cold, too.
A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Cherry had experienced snow before, but he acknowledged Ohio is a different breed.
Playing Division I football is perhaps harder than trudging through the cold. As an early enrollee, Cherry is trying to find his place within the team.
On the first day of spring practice, he made a one-handed catch as he fell to the ground. The play made it on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that day.
Despite his catching skills, Cherry’s role might be as the fastest receiver on the team, though Papi White, a rising redshirt junior, is perhaps already the fastest.
“He (White) probably could get me in the 40, but in the 100 I feel like I could get him,” Cherry said.
Cherry tore his ACL during his junior year of high school, but he doesn’t think the injury has hampered his speed. With Cherry looking to prove his speed, he sometimes runs slow because he doesn’t think the quarterbacks’ throws will reach him.
Aside from the quarterback and receiver combo, tight end Ryan Luerhman is also looking to make improvements.
Luerhman redshirted last season, and to earn some playing time next season, he has worked on gaining weight.
“My weight has definitely gone up and strength too, big time, which has also been helpful,” Luerhman said. “And my footwork still needs a lot of work, but it’s a lot more improved than it has been.”
Luerhman, an Athens native, said his coaches have pushed him to gain weight, which will help him block defensive ends and linebackers better.
Haber, Cherry and Luerhman only represent their experiences — each player’s is different. But the young players have benefited from being in a setting in which they have a chance to thrive.
The first-string players — except for a recovering A.J. Ouellette, who sometimes participates — don’t go to these sessions.
It’s only the team’s youth, the team’s future.
“I think the future is bright, I think it’s going to be fun,” Luerhman said. “We got a good group of guys coming in and that are here right now.”