This is the first in a series of five player profiles leading up to opening kickoffs next Friday night. For full team previews, pick up a copy of The Ledger Independent on Aug. 17.
FLEMINGSBURG – Josh Crump was the star on Fleming County’s high-powered offense the last few years, but the time has come for a new player to step into the role of quarterback.
The Panthers believe Jonathan Maher can lead the team when they have the ball in their hands this fall, but they’re also looking at the junior to quarterback the team when they don’t have possession.
“We talk about him [Maher] at quarterback, but he’s returning as a starter at inside linebacker, which our inside linebackers are kind of the quarterbacks of the defense. He’s back and he’s calling the defense for us this year,” said Fleming County coach Bill Spencer. “He’s done well for us this summer.”
Maher played all 11 games on a Fleming County team that was 11th in Class 3A in points allowed per game in 2017. Opponents averaged 21.1 points against the Panthers and allowed only 83 passing yards per game, good for eighth-best in their class.
He racked up a total of 82 tackles during the season, while also recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass in the second quarter against Rowan County and returning it 53 yards to the end zone.
“I like playing defense a lot better,” said Maher. “I like hitting people rather than getting hit.”
The weak point in the Fleming County defense last year came against the run. The Panthers allowed just over 200 yards per game on the ground, but Maher believes that’s something the team’s improved upon entering the 2018 season.
“Our defensive line is big and I think we’ll be able to stop the running game a lot,” said Maher. “Our outside linebackers are fast and they aren’t afraid to hit anybody. They’re both really strong, so I think we’ll do good this year.”
Offensively is where he’ll likely feel the most pressure. Maher saw varsity action as a receiver last year, but hasn’t had experience starting at quarterback. He did make it into some games last season in his new position, but only when there was a large point differential.
“That’s the main thing not just Jonny is lacking, but a lot of our guys,” said Spencer. “They got to play in some games, but they never got the start and there’s a lot more pressure on you when you’re the starting quarterback, or you’re the starting running back and things.”
Maher had never played quarterback until last season when he was tabbed to take over for Crump, who completed 128-of-210 passes for 2,091 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. Crump was the district player of the year.
Maher took over the position at the junior varsity level and his coaches have been focusing on what he does well, instead of what worked well with Crump the last three years.
“We knew down the road we were going to have to have a quarterback. First and foremost, he’s not going to be Josh Crump. We know that and everybody else knows that,” said Spencer. “Jonny is a capable player, a capable kid. He has his strengths and we’re working on some of the things we perceive as his weaknesses right now.”
At the varsity level, Maher completed three passes for 52 yards, 49 of which came on a touchdown pass to C.J. Gulley in a 44-0 rout of Class 3A, District 5 foe Lewis County.
His first touchdown pass wasn’t a picturesque play, however, as the snap went through his hands and up into the air. But he was able to catch it, regain composure and fire it down the field, which was something Spencer was happy to see, and not only because it ended up putting more points on the board.
“That kind of shows his composure that he doesn’t get rattled when things happen and that’s what we’ve been happy with him this summer,” said Spencer. “Things haven’t always gone perfect for him, but he doesn’t get rattled and frustrated when things go bad.”
The summer has included work on his passing game. Crump was also the team-leader in rushing yards last year with 546, and Maher believes his own ability to scramble is his strong point early on.
“I ain’t got the arm Josh does. Josh can do both of them, but I ain’t got the arm,” said Maher. “I’m working on it because [assistant coach Jordan] Fritz is making me stay in the pocket more and read better.”
Maher caught 12 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns last year, so he’s familiar with that end of the team’s passing plays.
He’ll be working with an overhauled group of skill players this season, as the team lost the likes of Jaden Campbell, Brad Glascock and Zac Alexander, as well as running backs Nick Clark and Josh Hamm. He’s found senior Cole Saunders, who caught 14 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns last year, as well as Gulley, to be a couple of his favorite targets early on, but the Panthers are also looking at Kaleb Flanery, Andrew Jackson, Jesse Bays and Blake McKibben to get their hands on the ball.
“Jonny has been throwing the ball a lot better lately and I like that. He knows the offense, he knows how we run our routes, so he does a pretty good job,” said Saunders. “I’m comfortable with him.”
While there are several changes to the offense and added responsibility for Maher, the Fleming County coach is confident in his new quarterback’s ability to help the Panthers on their quest for back-to-back district titles.
“We’ve got a lot of expectations and maybe a little extra pressure on him. Josh just had to play offense and worry about that. Jonny has to play both sides and control everything,” said Spencer. “We’re putting some pressure on him, but we think he’s a good kid and can do it.”