KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It’s early evening at Keystone High School and Bret Wingard steps into the weight room.
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound senior quarterback is not there to work out — he did his weight training in the morning. He’s there just because he wants to be around his teammates. He wants to encourage them, share a few laughs and bond with them. He wants to lead them.
“Bret comes to the weight room two times a day,” said Keystone head football coach Ryan Smith. “He lifts in the morning, and then he comes back at night to hang out with the kids who come to the night lift to be with them as a teammate. He’s a perfect example of a player you want to build around.”
Last year was a trying one for the Panthers because COVID-19 and the restrictions that went along with the pandemic. It was particularly difficult on Wingard, who was taking over the reins of the offense for the first time as the starter.
Isaak Jones, who the year before threw for 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns in leading Keystone to a 9-2 record, graduated and suddenly Wingard was thrust into action with very little time to prepare during a limited offseason.
“I learned a lot from Isaak Jones,” Wingard said. “He taught me a lot, but I just had to get better while playing (last year). We had a lot of fun playing last year, but we didn’t get a lot of reps.”
Or a lot of games.
Keystone played just six of them, going 4-2. The Panthers didn’t play for a three-week stretch at the end of the season before closing the year with a win over Curwensville, 26-13.
It was one of Wingard’s best games. He threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the victory and showed a bit of what he could do given time and seasoning.
He got that time and seasoning, finally, this summer.
“This year, all summer, grinding out reps — it just helped so much,” Wingard said. “We’re good to go.”
Wingard made it a point to gather with his receivers as much as possible. Keystone has a bevy of pass-catching talent in Zander McHenry, Ian Keth, Nicholas Cosper and even fullback Caleb Nellis.
“Last year, we only got started July 7,” Smith said. “Trying to train a new quarterback was difficult. This year, Bret was able to participate in 7-on-7s. We were able to work on our offense and our pass game. He was able to get on the same page with his receiving corps, kind of like how Peyton Manning was always training with his receivers and they were always in tune with each other. That’s been huge.”
Wingard thinks so, too. Timing was an issue last season and Wingard was determined to not let a lack of report stunt the offensive growth again this year.
“We’re so much more comfortable as a whole,” Wingard said. “Getting on the same page with them, I think that can take us to the next level.”
Wingard was still effective despite being raw and despite learning on the fly. He completed nearly 50% of his passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns in just six games. He did throw eight interceptions — something he also worked on limiting.
“He puts in the extra time — he gets the guys together whenever we’re not having practice to work on timing,” Smith said. “Bret studies tape. Bret is an example of a kid you want in your program coming through each year.”