He was probably the best quarterback that never played high school varsity football last year in the Panhandle.
In fact, Post Falls coach Jerry Lee swears Travis O’Briant could have started for a number of area teams a year ago.
But the one team he couldn’t start on was his own. He couldn’t beat out Darick Pope, who would led the Trojans to a 9-2 season and the State A-1 Division II semifinals.
Pope has moved on to the University of Idaho. Though the 6-foot-6 former Trojan left large footprints to fill, Lee never hesitated when he named his starter this fall.
As far as O’Briant, now a senior, is concerned, the starting job was a long time coming.
“I personally felt like I should have started last year,” the 6-0, 180-pound O’Briant said. “I never conceded the job (to Pope). I was just waiting for my time.”
After two games, O’Briant has completed 12 of 23 passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Statistically, O’Briant is off to a better start than Pope’s start last year.
One of the primary reasons O’Briant had to play backup to Pope for two seasons is Pope stood 6 inches taller than his understudy.
“And you don’t see many 6-6 quarterbacks often,” Trojans quarterback coach Steve Long said.
O’Briant brings to the field nearly everything Pope did, Long said. “He’s heady, has a knowledge of the game and is very coachable. The thing he probably has this year over last year is he’s throwing with more velocity.”
Lee appreciates O’Briant’s smarts as much as his skills. O’Briant has had just one grade lower than an A in high school and that came last year in honors pre-calculus.
“He’s much more cerebral than Darick,” Lee said. “You’re going to see (O’Briant) playing somewhere in college because of his grades and because of the type of athlete he is.”
Two-year starting offensive tackle Jeremy Wallace praised O’Briant for stepping in with no previous varsity experience and picking up where Pope left off.
“He’s a great leader in the classroom and on the field,” said Wallace, who has played sports with O’Briant all the way back to third-grade flag football. “It’s no surprise to me that he’s been able to step up from junior varsity and take it to another level.”
Wide receiver Brett Hollenbeck, who has also played with O’Briant since their early school years, has caught seven of O’Briant’s 12 completions for 255 yards, a 36.4 yards-per-catch average. O’Briant’s first pass of the season went for 93 yards and a touchdown to Hollenbeck.
“I knew he could step in and do it, and he’s even playing better than I thought,” Hollenbeck said. “He’s very motivated. He wants to do better than Pope did and he wants the team to do better than last year.”
O’Briant stops short of saying he’s out to prove the coaches wrong. And if he’s as motivated as Hollenbeck says, he’s keeping it inside.
“Always playing behind somebody motivates you,” O’Briant said, smiling as he sidestepped nicely the question of personal motivation, just as he would a blitzing safety.
Though he didn’t enjoy being a backup last year, O’Briant didn’t allow his dissatisfaction to affect his teammates. He led the JV to an 8-0 season, including a victory on the road at Lewiston.
“I want to win no matter what level I’m at and no matter what sport it is,” O’Briant said. “Every game I play I want to win.”
O’Briant’s first step in establishing his influence on the Trojans this year came at the University of Idaho camp where he was named to the all-camp team.
“He’s throwing the ball as well or better than Darick; he’s got a cannon for an arm,” Lee said. “In the Bonners Ferry game he had seven incompletions, but there was not one ball thrown that a receiver didn’t have a chance to catch. If he had a bugaboo early it was he pressed too hard, he tries to be perfect and he overthrows. He improved immensely over the first week.”
Because the Trojans returned experienced, talented running backs, led by Josh Mort, opponents expected the Trojans to be more effective running than passing.
Tight end Austin Lee hopes teams key on the running backs.
“I’m sure a lot of teams thought we’d run a little better than throw,” Lee said. “But I think with Travis we’re as much a threat to throw as run.”
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