Posted: 7:09 pm Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
By Matt Porter
After Tuesday’s practice at Dwyer, coach Jack Daniels talked about the development of senior quarterback Faton Bauta, who recently committed to Georgia, and this week’s opponent in the Class 7A regional final, St. Thomas Aquinas.
Daniels said he can’t remember a player making this kind of improvement in such a short period of time. Bauta, who moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to South Florida last winter, had never been a full-time quarterback at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep, splitting time in the backfield and at linebacker.
But Bauta (6-3, 225, No. 16 on the Big Board) always wanted to be a quarterback, and that’s what Georgia sees in him. They’ll need Bauta’s best — plus that stout Dwyer defense — to upend Aquinas, which has made the playoffs in each of the last 21 seasons.
Here’s the full interview:
We talked in the preseason about how Faton needed to improve his accuracy, his reads and his speed getting rid of the ball. How has he improved since then?
JACK DANIELS: I mean, first of all he’s physically gifted, so he has that going for him. But he’s also one of the hardest working kids that’s ever played here. He’s just a, uh … how do I say it? He just wants it so bad. It’s like watching a six-year-old, when I first met him and saw him play, to a kid that’s now a college player. That’s the progression he’s made as far as throwing the football. I’ve never seen such a remarkable improvement with any player ever.
The reps. The game slowed down for him a little bit. Confidence in his own abilities. He’s always had the physical tools. He had to work on some mechanical things. He’s put it all together.
Some of the throws he’s made in the last couple games have been like, stuff Jacoby did. Plus he can beat you with his legs.
Him wanting it so bad, did that hurt him at times, or did it always serve him well?
It hurt him a little bit with our team at the beginning. It was kind of taken as him being arrogant or something like that, but it wasn’t. I mean, I think it rubbed some people the wrong way, but we knew what he wanted. Sometimes he was a little impatient at the beginning. He thought things would come a lot smoother, but I mean, he’s changed so much. He’s become such a leader.
It really clicked in one game. At halftime, I think it was the West Boca game, we were beating them pretty good, but we had a defensive score, a punt return and something else. At halftime, he came out the second half and was just a different player. It’s been that way ever since. I think he realized he wasn’t playing up to his capabilities. I don’t know. It’s been so remarkable I can’t tell you what the reason was.
Have you seen this before in any of your players?
Not this dramatic. I’ve seen improvement every time, but not from a kid in a six-month period.
When did Georgia first start hitting him?
They’ve been on pretty much the whole year. I think a lot of schools were hitting him as an athlete more than a quarterback. If you would have told me in the spring he’d be playing quarterback at Georgia or a big school, I wouldn’t have said … I would have been very hesitant, but I really believe he can now. He’s gotten that much better.
Has Georgia always wanted him as a quarterback?
I think they’ve always wanted him at quarterback because he’s always let everybody know. If he hadn’t gone there and said, I want to come here as a player, but I’m coming as a quarterback. If you don’t want me as a quarterback, I don’t want it. He didn’t want it. That’s his attitude.
What do you think Georgia sees in him as a quarterback, in the SEC, in their set?
I think they see that he can beat you as an athlete. He can take snaps under center, he can take be in shotgun, he can beat you as a spread quarterback, he can beat you running the football. He’s kind of like, I was thinking it today, he’s kind of become a version of [Tim] Tebow, as far as running the ball. I mean, he’s been very good running for us, but his throwing’s improved dramatically. He’s really got it all going for him right now.
Is there legitimacy to the Tebow comparison? Some might see the size, the running ability and compare any quarterback like that to Tebow because he’s so well known.
Well, I compare him now because Faton’s a winner. It seems like Tebow wills his way to things. Faton’s willed his way to being a great quarterback. His will is incredible. So, that’s what I think about comparing the two.
Was it hard for him to get adjusted to the speed of guys like Johnnie [Dixon] and Clint [Stephens, Dwyer's standout receivers]?
It wasn’t necessarily the deep throws. It was the timing of the routes. Probably the intermediate throws were the ones he struggled with the most, and understanding coverages. But his deep throws have been great. The pass he hit Johnnie with the other night for 85 yards was dead on the money, in-stride, and went about 50 yards in the air. But Clint and Johnnie help.
What’s his range throwing the ball?
His arm is as strong as anybody in the state or probably in the country. He can throw a ball pretty far. His accuracy is the main thing that’s picked up.
What were your preseason expectations for him?
For Faton? He’s exceeded them. I mean, he’s already exceeded him.
I knew he was gonna work, and I knew we had good coaches working with him, but the progress he’s made … I think in the beginning it was, how can we manage the game and have Faton make some throws to help us win games, and now our game plan can have Faton take over the game with his arm, which I didn’t think he could do at the beginning of the year.
We’ve talked about your defense being ahead of your offense, which is more a credit to your defense than a hit on your offense. Do you think you’re as balanced now as you can be?
I think it benefits us both ways. Our defense plays so good, they give us short fields to work with sometimes. A lot of times our defense is so dominant, we’ll get some quick scores. So our offense, stat-wise – because a lot of our kids aren’t playing the second half – we’re not going to have Faton throwing 25 times a game. We haven’t been trailing much, so he’s been averaging probably 10 to 12 throws a game. We’re rotating running backs. Clint and Johnnie haven’t played a lot in the second half.
Do you think that hurt Faton recruiting-wise, or do stats not really matter at this point?
No, I don’t think it hurt him much. People saw what he can do, athletic-wise. They came to take a look and saw he can throw the football, he’s got a strong arm. I think there are going to be a lot of colleges sorry that they didn’t take him, because he’s going to prove some people wrong.
I’ve seen some college quarterbacks. Some guys can run, some guys can throw, but I haven’t seen a lot that can do both. Faton, now, has proven to me that he can.
What schools were really going after him?
Mississippi State, Purdue, UCF. He liked Tennessee. Those were the ones that were mainly interested in him. He took a visit to Purdue, he really liked Mississippi State. For some reason, I think he wanted to play in the SEC. I don’t know why, being a New York kid, but, you know.
Aquinas: They’re kind of like you guys in that they make the playoffs year after year after year, but for them, they didn’t win the district title this year. Some might say they’ve taken a downward step.
You’re talking about a team that is the most tradition-[filled] high school in the country, as far as football. When I’m going to talk about them, I’m going to say nothing but good things. I think this year, you’ve got a team in Cooper City that got them on a bad night and had a field goal blocked and took it back 97 yards. I think they’ve learned from their losses. They lost to Miramar, which is the No. 1 team in the country, probably.
So, it’s typical St. Thomas – they’ve just got a couple losses under their belt. They’re very well coached, obviously. They’ve got good players, they’re smart. It’s kind of what you would expect from a state championship game, but we’re getting it in the third round, and that’s what we’ve got to deal with. But our kids have gotten better every game. Probably surprised coaches with how well we’ve played in some games. You know, I’m excited about our chances. I’m excited to be playing Friday.
You’ve obviously watched Aquinas a ton. How would you describe what they do?
Their offensive line is very good. They’re big. They run the zone option, run some iso, throw it when they need to throw it. They’ve got some good receivers, two quarterbacks. One can beat you with his legs a little bit more, one’s more of a thrower. They know what they’re doing. The coaches know what looks they’re going to get, what adjustments they need to make. Defensively, they’re sound. They don’t make mistakes. If they do make mistakes, they’re going to make an adjustment and not make it again. It’s exciting to coach against them. Our players are excited and our coaches are excited.
What do you remember about the last time you played them [2004 Class 5A regional final, the only time the teams have met]?
We lost 10-7.
It was the third round of the playoffs.
I remember … it was typical, I think they had all five offensive linemen go Division 1. Two to Notre Dame, one to Florida. They all went Division 1. They had a couple Division 1 receivers. We had a chance to take the lead with a touchdown to go up 14-7. It got called back on the holding penalty. I think we were up 7-3, late in the fourth quarter our corner got hurt – he’s actually coaching for me right now – and we brought in another corner and he got beat on a waggle route on a post corner. I remember everything about it.
They ended up scoring a touchdown and beat us 10-7. It was a great game. A really good game. They ended up going to the state championship.