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Junior Nick Pirotte stood helmetless and unexpecting on the edge of the Shawnee Mission South football field yelling “Let’s go defense!” to his teammates who were playing against Olathe East. Suddenly, a defensive lineman on the opposing team began to stumble and fell directly on senior quarterback Dakota Collins’s left ankle; after he collapsed after continuing for five plays, it was clear he had lost all ability to walk once he was laying on the field and making no effort to get up.
“Pirotte!” Offensive Coach Jason Filbeck yelled back to Pirotte. “Start warming up!”
Once Pirotte comprehended all that was happening, he realized that it would be up to him to carry his team through the remainder of the game, if not the rest of the season.
Despite what coaches and players might expect, Pirotte didn’t feel even a little bit anxious. Besides feeling prepared, the pats on the back and teammates telling him not to worry helped him feel confident from the start.
“I think I was the least nervous person in the stadium,” Pirotte said. “I felt prepared and I knew the entire team would help me out. It happened so quick I didn’t really think about it.”
Though the Lancers were losing 28-7 when he subbed in, Pirotte lead his team to an unlikely comeback, 35 to 27. Despite the tough loss, Sherman and Collins both were pleased with Pirotte’s performance.
“I felt good [when Nick had to go in] because he’s a good backup,” Collins said. “He did a really good job Friday when he replaced me at Olathe East and he almost bounced back, and that shows why he’s a great backup.”
Though Pirotte never really expected to have to go in, he prepared for the possibility. The coaches trained him all summer and throughout the preseason by giving him mental repetitions, meaning learning by watching. This consisted of watching other people run plays and watching film of past games to allow him to see things he would likely experience in a game situation. Even though he was happy for an opportunity to play, he wished it would have happened under different circumstances.
“You don’t want something like [a bad injury] to happen, but you’ve gotta be prepared for when it does,” Pirotte said. “You always have it in the back of your mind that it could happen, but you don’t want to think about it because you just want what’s best for the team.”
Since taking over the quarterback position, Sherman and Collins agree that he has a great work ethic and a great attitude. Even though Collins will be able to come back in two weeks, he has been working hard to get up to speed.
“He’s been working really, really hard with the receivers and trying to get on page with them,” Collins said. “It’s kind of hard being the JV starter and then trying to work with your varsity receivers, and he’s been doing a good job getting tied down with them.”
Of all the obvious differences between starting for JV and starting for Varsity like number of attendants, level of intensity, and amount of recognition, Pirotte has found the level of competitiveness to be the most prominent of all.
“There isn’t a level above [Varsity], so that makes a big difference,” Pirotte said. “As a team you wanna do the best you can that night like it’s the biggest game, whereas JV sometimes you don’t have some guys playing because they play the next day on varsity.”
Besides working hard to fit in with the varsity team, Pirotte has been working on bonding with his teammates. Though he’s known them and practiced with them all season, Pirotte doing things like going to eat at Cici’s Pizza with the team and hanging out afterwards.
“I’ve always felt like I was part of the team even though I didn’t play,” Nick said. “The off-the-field chemistry was there it was just getting the on-the-field chemistry to where it needs to be.”
Now that he feels on the same page with the rest of the team, Pirotte has begun to shift into the leadership role that, according to Sherman, is required with being in the quarterback position. Though he has made progress, he still has yet to gain 100 percent of their respect as a leader.
“[The guys] look up to him, but they’re still not like, ‘he’s our quarterback,’” Collins said. “He still has to earn that like I did when I had to come in.”
In order to gain the respect of the team as a leader, Pirotte has been trying to be more vocal towards the team, and get over the awkwardness of telling someone older and with seniority what to do out on the field.
Now that he’s dealing with the amount of pressure that comes with Varsity, Pirotte has figured out that getting pumped up beforehand doesn’t help at all in starting a game.
“I usually try to stay pretty calm just because as quarterback, you don’t really need to get pumped up,” Pirotte said. “You just need to stay mellow, ‘cause it’s a lot of mental stuff; quarterback is not as physically challenging as it is mentally. So I just listen to country music and that’s about it.”
Though Sherman believes Pirotte has done a solid job filling in for Collins the past two weeks, Pirotte still feels the need to work hard on improving fundamentals, such as throwing mechanics, drops and reading defense. In the end, according to Pirotte, working hard with the coaches and the support of his teammates will get him to where he wants to be for the next two weeks until Collins returns.
“My team helps out quite a bit,” Pirotte said. “That helps more than anyone realizes. As a team I feel like we’re ready [to go on with the season].”