WITH the start of the season just a day away, Evan Shirreffs knows there are only a precious few Friday nights left in his high school football career.
The Jefferson quarterback is perhaps as aware of that reality as any of his fellow seniors after seeing half of his junior season last year wiped out with a thumb injury.
“This season is it for me and the rest of the seniors,” said Shirreffs, who still threw for over 1,200 yards in 2013 despite missing six games. “We realize we need to do something special to be remembered.”
Shirreffs experienced something of a rollercoaster season a year ago.
After serving as an understudy for his brother, Bryant, for two years, Shirreffs finally assumed the controls of the Jefferson offense in 2013 and the Dragons averaged 44.5 points through the first four games. But Shirreffs broke the thumb on his throwing hand in week five against Washington-Wilkes and sat out for the next six weeks.
Shirreffs called being relegated to the sideline “terrible.”
Jefferson had a more than capable back-up in wide receiver T.J. Skelton, who rallied the Dragons to six straight wins. Still, inactivity wasn’t easy for Shirreffs.
“Luckily we had T.J. to play quarterback while I was out to lead the team,” he said. “He actually didn’t lose a game as a starter so I guess he could be seen as better than me. But it was certainly sad not to be out there and play and win with this team.”
Of course, Shirreffs did help his team win a rather big game before all was said and done.
Shirreffs made his triumphant return in a rain-drenched second round playoff game with Heard County. With Dragons trailing 10 points in the fourth quarter, Shirreffs came off the bench and authored a dramatic comeback to propel Jefferson into the Class AA state quarterfinals.
The 61-57 win won’t be forgotten by Shirreffs — and not by Dragon fans either.
“It really felt like something out of a movie or Friday Night Lights, the series,” he said.
In fact, when Jefferson scored the go-ahead touchdown — a nine-yard scoring strike from Shirreffs to Skelton — Shireffs said, “it may have been the best feeling of my life.”
Shirreffs enters this season with one more chance to create similar Friday night memories. He said he and the rest of the seniors want “to go out with a bang.”
“Our goal is definitely another state championship,” Shirreffs said. “But we’re just taking it a week at a time and just trying to get that win every week so we can gain momentum toward that goal.”
Though he is playing behind an inexperienced offensive line, Shirreffs has several weapons at his disposal, starting with the talented receiving tandem of Dalton Hill and Skelton. Hill led Jefferson with 583 yards receiving last year while Skelton finished with 313 yards despite playing only half the year at receiver.
“Dalton is a sure-catch kind of guy,” Shirreffs said. “I can always trust him in pressure situations. T.J. is our speed guy who’s going to get the yards after the catch. It’s important to have both types of receivers.”
Shirreffs is also surrounded by running backs Sammy Williams and Darrian Hill, slot receiver Rodney Carr and tight ends Ethan Garner and Joseph Randolph (who’s also playing defense).
“I certainly see them as valuable weapons this season,” Shirreffs said.
This is a big year from a recruiting standpoint, too, for the 6-5, 195-pound pro-style quarterback since his junior year was cut short. Shirreffs holds scholarship offers from Virginia Military Institute and Limestone College. He also attended summer camps at Duke and Wake Forest and garnered interest from those schools, though no offers.
But he’d rather worry about the Dragons’ fortunes this fall and let the recruiting process “work itself out.”
After all, if there’s one thing he learned from last year’s experience, it’s to savor every moment on the football field, which he plans to do this year.
“Every game is definitely going to be savored,” Shirreffs said. “Because last year made me realize how valuable a high school football career really is. You only get to play for that limited four years.”