Replacing a talent in Kevin Dunn who broke his schoolâ€™s passing record two years in a row is hardly an easy task, but the Berlin football team is making things as simple as possible for its new starting quarterback.
Justin Skates enters his junior season as the new leader of the Redcoatsâ€™ offense, and with a revamped offensive line and an established running game led by All-State selection Zach Hrubiec, Skates is in a position to succeed in his first year as a starter.
â€śIt feels good,â€ť Skates said. â€śIâ€™m grateful for the opportunity, especially following in Kevinâ€™s footsteps. Hopefully itâ€™s a special season.â€ť
Dunn is now preparing for his first collegiate season at Sacred Heart, but Skates continues to build his own confidence off what he saw from his former teammate last season, when Dunn led Berlin to the Class M state championship game.
â€śMe and him were close,â€ť Skates said of Dunn. â€śI think just watching him and watching his ability to make plays in big situations helped me a lot.â€ť
Skates entered the preseason expecting a fight for the starting job, but an injury to Nick Melville opened a clearer path, though Skatesâ€™ teammates have seen him compete as if his role was anything but guaranteed.
â€śHe put in the work in the offseason,â€ť Hrubiec said. â€śHe knew he was going to be in a quarterback battle. Sadly, Nick tore his labrum, but Justin has worked really hard and we believe in him. I believe in him. Heâ€™s going to take advantage of this opportunity.â€ť
Hrubiec has seen Skates progress since his first year with the program, but even those that are watching him for the first time are quickly gaining belief the Redcoats have the right man to lead their offense.
â€śHeâ€™s amazing,â€ť first-year offensive lineman Aiden Jones said. â€śHeâ€™s quick and has a great arm. You canâ€™t stop him. Heâ€™s confident. He just has it all.â€ť
Part of Skatesâ€™ confidence stems from the realization he doesnâ€™t have to be Dunn. Sure, it would be nice to turn in an all-conference season, but this yearâ€™s version of Berlin is built to rest on the legs of its running game rather than the arm of a dynamic playmaker. The expectation for Skates will be to orchestrate a run-first offense and not worry about changing the game in the air, which plays right into the mindset of a first-year starter.
Dunn represents a number of key departures from last yearâ€™s Redcoats team, but Berlin has the plan in place for a smooth transition for its next era, with Skates highlighting the new chapter.
â€śI understand all the transfers and losses that we had, but I think we can still work with what weâ€™ve got,â€ť Skates said. â€śIf we put in hard work, good things will come of it.â€ť