Quick as Vick

Electrifying quarterback <b>Antonio Bass</b> of <b>Jackson High (Mich.)</b> is the nation's most dangerous dual-threat quarterback and even draws comparisons to Michael Vick.

This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

Jackson head football coach Jack Fairly didn't quite know what to expect when he offered to drive senior quarterback Antonio Bass to Virginia Tech for a one-day camp this past offseason. There's a lot of highway between Jackson and Blacksburg, and Fairly figured there might be a lot of long silences.

Sure, Fairly served his first year as the Vikings' head coach last fall after 18 seasons as an assistant at three different schools. So, yeah, he knew Bass. But he didn't know him well enough to comfortably road trip with him. Or so he thought.

"We talked the whole trip," recalls Fairly, 43, a former two-way lineman at now-defunct Parkside High. "We had a great conversation about the movie ‘Troy,' and I was surprised to find out he knew a lot about Greek mythology. He asked me about my wife and my sons and where I went to school and why I became a coach. We said nothing about football. There I was wondering what we'd talk about, and then he's as adult as can be. He likes to really know people."

Those who know Bass know he isn't yet an adult, having turned 17 on Aug. 4. But the 6-foot-2, 195-pound lefty isn't rated the nation's No. 30 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com because he's shown any immaturity on the field.

In his first year as a full-time quarterback in a run-based offense, Bass accounted for almost 1,400 yards of total offense as a junior. He rushed for 909 yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for 471 yards and 10 scores, averaging 7.3 yards per rush and 17 yards per completion. And with Bass running the Vikings' option-oriented attack last fall, the offense averaged 30 points per game and amassed more than 3,000 rushing yards as Jackson finished 5-5.

"If you watch him play, he does things you can't believe," says Fairly. "But his real gift is his body. You look at him in his Under Armour T-shirt and you say to yourself he's gotta be 24 years old. I mean, he benches 350 and he's run a hand-timed 4.3 in the 40. That's a 16-year-old we're talking about when he did that."

As superficially as Fairly knew Bass before their trek to Virginia Tech, Bass admits he doesn't even know himself sometimes. That is, when it comes to his on-the-field self.

"I'll watch a highlight of myself and it doesn't even feel like it's me," says Bass, who lists powerhouses Michigan, Florida, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and LSU as his top five college choices entering his senior season. "It's like, ‘Who is that?' It happens when I put on the gear. I'm a totally different person. Usually, I'm goofing and playing around. When I put the gear on, I won't play at all."

What recruiters love is his play on the football field, not his playfulness. And it doesn't really matter to college coaches if Bass can't figure out who he is on the field as long as he keeps doing what he does best. Which is defy the laws of physics.

Bass is a stop-and-start player in the Michael Vick mold. He can beat you with his feet or his arm, and he makes even the quickest defenders look foolish in the process. His explosive cutback ability was evident back when Bass was a sophomore, earning him spot duty on varsity at running back and even some snaps at quarterback on option plays to spell then-starter Keonta Howell, now a sophomore guard for the University of Toledo's basketball squad.

But Fairly knew Bass couldn't remain a halfback forever.

"You could see his talent was the kind you didn't want limited to touching the ball 15 times a game," says Fairly. "I wanted him to have the ball in his hands 60 times a game."

The athleticism Bass possesses is remarkable. He's been the starting point guard for the varsity hoop team ever since leading the freshman squad to an unbeaten record in 2002, and he also plays center field for the school's baseball team.

But there is a downside to being so athletically gifted. Given his running ability and background, questions remain in the eyes of some scouts. Can this kid shake his rushing instincts enough to remain a passing threat? Isn't there a chance he'll end up as one of those indecisive ex-running backs who pulls the ball down and scampers at the first sign of trouble?

Is he a true quarterback or an "athlete" — as he's listed on some recruiting rankings — who is better suited for another position at the collegiate level?

"I adapt to what the defense gives me," says Bass, who is determined to be recruited solely as a quarterback. "If you give me a chance to throw the ball, I will throw the ball."

He'll certainly have ample opportunity to prove that this season. With 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior tight end Tim Williams and 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior wide receiver Eddie Benton returning along with 6-foot-3, 340-pound senior offensive lineman Juaquan Williams, Bass should have receivers to throw to and time to make his reads.

For his part, Fairly is happy his second year at the helm will depend on a good-natured kid with huge talent.
This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

"He's a true gem, and whoever gets him is going to be thrilled," says Fairly. "He got an offer from Iowa as a junior and he was so excited he said, ‘Man, I got a college offer, and that's all I ever wanted.' He was up to 23 offers entering this season, and he just sees that as a blessing 23 times over.

"Antonio has that rare combination of strength and speed, but what makes him different is his ability to cut and come off cuts with power," Fairly adds. "He'd just as soon run over you as shake-and-bake you. And if he does do the latter, he'll outrun you. He throws so well on the run, too. He's not a pure drop-back passer, but he'll roll out and throw like it's out of a textbook."

What else should Fairly expect? Antonio Bass couldn't be a running back forever.

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