By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
MILDRED — —
East Bernard coach Jerry Long can relate to the lap of luxury Mildred counterpart Patrick Harvell has lived in the last three years.
The same quarterback, fewer headaches.
Actually, East Bernard’s Ty Slanina started several games his freshman season, as did Mlidred’s Nic Shimonek. Both have had the position to themselves the last three years, and it’s as big a reason as any that Mildred (13-1) will play East Bernard (14-0) in the Class 2A Division II State Championship Game at 8 p.m. Thursday night at Cowboys Stadium.
"Starting at it early really helps," Harvell said. "It gives them a chance to get comfortable with the position. Nic struggled some as freshman, had a good sophomore year and gained the confidence to do what he's done as a junior and senior."
It speaks to the considerable progress that quarterbacks have made in the state of Texas that the starters in this year’s 2A DII state final have made verbal commitments to Big Ten and Big 12 schools. Slanina is headed to TCU while Shimonek is headed to Iowa.
Watching Shimonek on film, it’s not a surprise he’s headed to a BCS school, Long said.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Long said. “He looks like a Division I kid. We understand what we’re up against with him. We have to keep everything in front of us and not give up big plays.”
Mildred’s defense faces a major challenge in Slanina, a 6-foot, 185-pound speedster who will play quarterback, running back and receiver on Thursday night.
Slanina is what college recruiters label an “athlete” — he’ll play slot receiver for the Horned Frogs.
He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and has a vertical leap of 32 inches. He’s a state long jump and 4x400 relay champion. He’s a good enough baseball player that he’ll play both sports at TCU (the Horned Frogs have Top 25-level programs in both).
"He's fast," Mildred safety Draylon Sterling said. "We can't let him get outside on us."
Slanina has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season. He’s rushed for 1,048 yards and 22 TDs. He’s passed for 501 yards, seven TDs and thrown only two interceptions. And he has 13 receptions for 277 yards and five more TDs.
Perhaps the most eye-opening statistic — Slanina averages 14.8 yards per rush.
“He has exceptional speed,” Long said. “He’s an elusive kind of runner. He’s a good passer. A great leader.”
Shimonek has had a breakout season — running the ball. Harvell has unleashed him and the 6-4, 205 senior has accounted for 842 yards and 16 TDs on the ground.
Shimonek isn’t an elusive runner, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. But he helps move the chains and takes some pressure off of tailback Draylon Sterling, who should go over 2,000 yards Thursday night.
Shimonek of course is a dangerous passer with 2,555 yards, 33 TDs and only six interceptions in six times as many attempts as Slanina. He’s thrown for more than 8,000 yards in his career.
“You can see on film that he has good poise and good footwork,” Long said. “He does a good job. He can pull it down with his legs. Along with No. 8 (Sterling), we have to limit the big plays.”
The Eagles will have the same task facing them against Slanina. The Brahmas want to get him out in space, wherever they line him up.
"He's extremely fast and very quick," Harvell said. "He sets up his blockers well. If he gets to edge he'll be hard to catch."
Having Shimonek and Slanina out on the field Thursday night gives both coaches a lot less to stress about on Thursday night.
“They’ve played in a lot of games,” Long said of the dueling quarterbacks. They have a lot of experience. There’s nothing you can prepare for from that standpoint. It’s big for both kids.”