By Trey Williams
Science Hill senior quarterback Justin Bedard didn’t fully appreciate how much he wanted to play for Stacy Carter until Carter told him he would understand if he didn’t.
Bedard was a quality quarterback in the Junior Toppers program and while playing in grades 7-9. But the writing was on the wall his sophomore year at Science Hill, when dynamic junior Malik McGue was taking over for Reed Hayes.
If Bedard wanted to transfer, Carter said, it’d be with his blessing.
“I knew he wanted what’s best for me,” Bedard said. “He said, ‘Look Justin, if you want to go somewhere else, you’re good enough right now as a sophomore to go most places around here, especially, and start right now. But if you believe in me and you believe in the program we’re building here, you’re gonna be successful no matter what.’ He said, ‘I’ll support you whatever you do, but we feel like you’re gonna be a great player here.’”
Bedard finally has his hands on the wheel and he’s driven the Hilltoppers to a 3-0 start.
“It was definitely tough,” Bedard said. “I remember I sat down with Coach Carter my sophomore year … and I was like, ‘How do you want me to go about this? What do you want me to do?’ He wasn’t trying to brag or anything like that, but he said, ‘Every quarterback I’ve had going back to (Sullivan) South and Curt Phillips have been extremely successful in this system.’ … He said, ‘If you wait your turn and you’re patient with it you’re gonna be an extremely successful player.’
“And I believed him, because he’s a great coach and he’s got a great offensive mind and he sets his players up, especially the quarterbacks, to be successful.”
Carter’s quarterbacks include: Sullivan East conference player of the year Matt Eads (Cumberland University); Sullivan South three-time conference player of the year and Mr. Football finalist Curt Phillips (Wisconsin); Sullivan South conference offensive player of the year Bradley Davenport; Sullivan South offensive player of the year Heath Haden (Centreville College); two conference offensive players of the year at Science Hill in Justin Snyder (Cumberland University) and Reed Hayes (Furman football offer/Walter State baseball); and McGue (signed with Army), a two-time conference player of the year and Mr. Football finalist.
Carter knew it’d pay off if Bedard stayed in the program. However, he could also see a case being made for transferring, depending on what was most important to Bedard.
“That was a tough situation,” Carter said. “I mean , heck, I was the first one to tell him (he could play somewhere else as a sophomore). He’s a good kid and you want the best for him.
“Of course, you don’t want to ever lose a kid like that, but you could understand that there were some things there that were tough. You’re talking about a Mr. Football finalist (McGue), and then he’s an incredible talent, too.”
It’s not that Bedard was philosophically opposed to transferring. In fact, he was excited when he learned Dobyns-Bennett running back King Russell was transferring to Science Hill in August, and Russell’s first three games have validated his optimism.
“King’s been a great addition,” Bedard said. “We’re thin again at running back this year and it was a problem for us in the spring and fall camp and stuff like that. And to get him – such a quality, quality player to transfer in like that, you know, that’s lucky. … He really was the missing piece.”
Indeed, it was the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Bedard that created the big vacancy at running back. While he was the backup quarterback, Bedard became a powerful running back with a burst, an ideal complement to the cat-quick McGue in the backfield last season.
Bedard rushed for 145 yards and three TDs in a 49-35 win against Dobyns-Bennett, and ran for 113 yards and two TDs on nine carries in Science Hill’s first-round playoff victory against Bradley Central the following week.
In the rematch on Sept. 4 at Bradley Central, Bedard left numerous Bears wobbling in his wake while pancaking linebackers, pushing piles and piling up 32 carries, 123 yards and two TDs, including a late game-winner in the 29-24 triumph.
The threat of Russell helped loosen up the Bears defense somewhat.
“Without his dominant presence back there,” Bedard said, “and being able to run the ball effectively too, there’s no way that I would’ve had the room that I had to get a couple of those good runs – in the second half, especially. You know, he’s flashy, but he’ll lower his shoulder. And to have two guys like that back there, I think, is kind of punishing for a defense.”
They had cumulative effect on Bradley Central. Bedard’s two rushing TDs came in the fourth quarter.
“I definitely enjoy the physical aspect of it,” he said. “I’m looking to go through them and, you know, make them think twice about coming up and trying to meet me in a gap or something like that. … I kept lowering my shoulder and going into ‘em, going into ‘em – and the fourth quarter rolls around and we had those big drives. I think probably that was they were a little bit more tired than I was of getting hit.”
Of course, his penchant for physicality is limited to opponents. Bedard said he’s glad he doesn’t have to go against his defense on Friday nights.
“Coach Carter said he’s never had a defense like the one he has this year,” Bedard said. “They’re special players. … Bryson Tolley’s honestly one of the best linebackers I’ve ever seen and Zach Kanady and Brett Marcus are great. And you have guys as strong and big as Cameron Burress and Chad Gage and Q (Quintin Alibocas) up front. I mean, that just fills out a dominant front seven. … We enjoy kind of being a bruising team as opposed to a, you know, go-around-you team.”
Among the linebackers, several coaches have alluded to the talent of Tolley and fellow interior linebacker Cameron Hill. Bedard recalled one practice when he was momentarily concerned the hard-hitting Tolley, who was messing around on the scout team defense, might not have realized he was a quarterback.
“He’s just a big ole boy and he’s coming through,” Tolley said with a smile. “It’s always fun to aggravate him.”
Tolley spared Bedard from one of his pad-popping wallops.
“He didn’t take me to the ground or anything, but he wrapped me up,” Bedard said. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to go against that for four quarters; there’s no way. And all of those guys are like that. … They’re physical, they’re tough and they’re gritty, and they want the collisions just like I want the collisions.”
The Bradley Central workload left Bedard no worse for wear during Friday’s homecoming game with Erwin (N.C.). He carried the ball 12 times for 99 yards and three touchdowns and passed for a 38-yard TD to Nakiya Smith while helping the Hilltoppers (3-0) dash to a 36-6 lead late in the second quarter. He sat the majority of the second half.
“I tell you, the kid is a great competitor,” Erwin coach Mike Sexton said shortly after his team’s 43-19 defeat. “He’s a great leader and obviously a tough kid. He takes hits. He’s not afraid to lay it out at any time for his team, and that makes him a great player.”
Bedard runs a 4.75 40 and has thrown a ball 61 yards. His arm was his most impressive attribute when he entered Science Hill. When McGue got injured against Brentwood Academy in 2013, His relief role included a start against Sullivan Central in which he passed for 209 yards and two TDs and ran for a score.
In this year’s season-opening win against Elizabethton he made several crisp throws to Tyrek Perkins in stride on slant routes. Impressive throws at Bradley Central included a 24-yard pass to Elijah Mathes after a pump fake and a laser-like strike to Jordan Holly for a 23-yard completion.
“It was actually a deep ball for him, but Jordan’s just so smart in his route running that he saw the corner just bailed and was playing over top of him,” Bedard said. “And we’ve been playing together so long that we kind of know what the other one wants. We both kind of simultaneously saw that and decided that he should buckle down the route, and I threw a back-shoulder ball to him.”
Bedard wears the No. 11 that was worn by Steve Spurrier, who often has said moving from Newport to Johnson City earned him valuable exposure for college. And not moving, it turns out, has probably aided Bedard – certainly in the sense that the dual-threat quarterback is now a multi-position prospect.
“Coming in being one of the best running backs around last year is a testament to what he’ll do, you know, selfless,” Carter said. “And it just shows you what he’s gonna do in life, too. Sometimes things don’t seem fair to you … but to get in and buckle down and then excel another way … he made it a positive instead of a negative. And now he’s getting recruited not just as a quarterback, but as an H-back, tight end, running back, fullback. What it did was help his stock instead of hurting him.”
Bedard will certainly have an opportunity to raise his stock Friday when Science Hill hosts defending state champion Maryville (4-0), which ended the Hilltoppers’ season with a 45-0 win in the state quarterfinals last year.