It’s week 1 of the 2017 Kansas high school football season, and coach Cade Armstrong already knows.
The Andover Trojans roll onto the field against Salina Central on the road, and freshman quarterback Eli Fahnestock has taken control of the huddle. That’s when the Andover football team’s trajectory went through the roof.
“We all knew right then, we’ve got something special,” Armstrong said. “From then on, the kid’s just got it. I don’t really know how to explain it. He’s got all the intangibles.”
Fahnestock, now a sophomore, looks the part of a standout quarterback. He is a 6-foot, 190-pound, three-sport athlete. He threw for 1,753 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 509 more yards with 11 scores as a freshman. He earned All-AVCTL II second team honors.
But he played the part of a star on Thursday night on the other side of the Wichita metro.
It’s a one-score game at Goddard Eisenhower with about a minute left on the Trojans’ 36 yard-line. Eisenhower has one timeout left. It’s fourth and 1, and Armstrong calls over to his quarterback.
“Go win the game,” he says.
On the snap, Fahnestock runs to his right with a brigade of Andover blockers in front of him. He turns the corner, lowers his shoulder. He needs 1 yard. He gets 2.
“He told me to go get it if I had it,” Fahnestock said. “I just lowered my shoulder. It was great blocking on the outside.”
Andover won 30-22.
Fahnestock threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the win to move Andover to 2-1 and still within striking distance of the top of the league.
Plays like the ones Fahnestock made Friday are why Armstrong says he can’t wait to see what he does as a senior.
“He’s the golden child,” Armstrong said.
Fahnestock has a loaded arm, a quick release and excellent mobility. But his greatest attribute might be his leadership, Armstrong said.
Coaching a player of such high potential can have its challenges, but Armstrong said he delegates those duties to his quarterbacks coach Chad Wilmott, a former University of Alabama-Birmingham quarterback.
After Fahnestock got the first down to clinch the win Thursday, Wilmott pumped his fist in the air. He was watching a sophomore prove his leadership.
“With Eli’s work ethic, the way he approaches every day at practice, he’s one of the most humble kids I’ve ever met,” Wilmott said. “He knows the game plan. He studies it. He probably knows it better than the coaches by the time Friday nights get here. It’s very rare.”
Wilmott is around Fahnestock as much as anyone. Wilmott said he knows Fahnestock’s tendencies, habits and, most important, his potential. He said coaching Fahnestock has been a blessing.
“With his ability — I’m not going to say it makes my job easy, but it’s very fun to go to work every day,” Wilmott said.
The Wichita area has gone through a great deal of quarterback turnover in 2018. Bishop Carroll, Wichita Northwest, Goddard and others all lost well-known, accomplished quarterbacks to graduation. Many of them are playing in college.
Fahnestock filled that void last year for 2016 quarterback Chase Oberg. But he has also jumped in for the likes of 5A champion Braden Howell from Carroll and AVCTL II champion Blake Sullivan from Goddard as one of the faces of Wichita quarterbacking.
“All the talk that goes on, you still have to come out and play,” Fahnestock said. “The job of the quarterback is to be a coach on the field. That’s what I try to do — be a leader, get everyone set up.”
Wilmott said his quarterback commands the room when he walks in. The Trojans respect him and will follow him.
He isn’t overly emotional. After the Trojans’ win Thursday, many of the players sprinted to the student section to celebrate. Fahnestock was the last one to arrive, and when he did, he wasn’t the one screaming and high-fiving.
He has poise beyond his years, which is rare for any high school quarterback but especially a sophomore, Armstrong said.
But Fahnestock is lucky. Andover is a young team. Armstrong said the Trojans might be the youngest team in Class 5A, starting eight sophomores and a couple of freshmen.
That allows the quarterback to feel more at ease to become a leader, commanding guys he is in class with rather than a team of experienced seniors.
That starts with his brother, Avery. He is one of the starting freshman. Even better, he is the center.
“For him to come in, win the job and be able to snap it to me is awesome,” Fahnestock said. “A lot of times, we’ll say, ‘Protect your family,’ but in that way, he’s actually my family.”
Fahnestock doesn’t have to do it alone. He has plenty of talented players around him on offense, including junior running back Peyton Henry and senior guard Kord Thompson.
But this team revolves around its quarterback. And with him at the helm, Armstrong believes the Trojans are in good hands for a long time.
“He’s got it,” Armstrong said. “He’s a gamer.
“He is going to be something special, absolutely something special.”